Durban - A government programme aimed at discouraging anti-social behaviour among young people, using different forms of art, has changed five young lives forever.
The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture recently took five young people to the Reunion Islands, in the Indian Ocean as a reward for being finalists in the "My School Cultural Adventure Programme".
The participants, who triumphed at ward, local municipality, district municipality and finally at the provincial level, spent seven days towards the end of March in the islands.
The programme gives learners an outlet to express their talent and potential and channel their creativity towards constructive and productive social activities.
The department uses this programme to address issues of social cohesion and nation building among the youth and creating a skills base by partnering learners with developed arts and culture practitioners in various activities. In the longer run, it is hoped that economic opportunities can be enhanced through arts and culture.
Thandeka Mncube completed Grade 12 in 2011 at Muzokhanyayo Secondary School and was one of five youths in the province that won the coveted prize.
Mncube tells BuaNews the trip has changed her life because apart from all that she has learnt, she got to travel outside South Africa, something she believes circumstances wouldn't otherwise allow.
Last year, the winners toured the province - visiting nature reserves to learn about climate change and Zulu heritage sites.
"It was difficult for people from Reunion Islands to speak English, but they made an effort. We would wear clothes and jewellery that showed that we were from South Africa and they were very interested in finding out about that," says Mncube.
Mncube says she didn't even know the Reunion Islands existed but did her research before she left.
"This programme by government must not be stopped because it motivates us, creates understanding and we learn. We forget that we come from a poor background and this gives us hope," she says.
Head of the delegation, Mbuso Kunene, said the programme is a direct response to KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize's call to create a platform for young people to access creative alternatives for quality and meaningful after school opportunities.
"The programme does not interfere with school hours as it is implemented after school as this is the time when many young people are vulnerable to negative lifestyles, influences and behaviours.
"It is a behavioural change programme to those who participate and to those who form part of the audiences. Art is used to communicate messages of good behaviour and educate people on social ills.
"The trip was a lifetime experience for the youth and other members of the delegation. There was a packed week-long programme from 8am to 8pm. They were so willing to learn and share with the Reunion people, especially the Reunion young people," says Kunene.
The youths visited two secondary schools and observed classes. They participated in a number of dialogues and shared ideas regarding culture, education and some social issues, especially those affecting the youth.
They also went to a highly technical industrial school preparing young people for work.
Kunene says the youth represented the South African people with pride and honour and they returned more determined to be the ambassadors of good behaviour.
Bongeka Zuma has already started to feel like an ambassador not just of good behaviour but for the country.
The Grade 10 learner at KwaMncane High School is passionate about using poetry as a tool for social change and says this programme made her feel like an ambassador for South Africa.
"But learning about our own province and the way our government works was also very helpful. This programme showed me that government wants to see us improve our behaviour and help us," she explains.
The programme during the competition phases required the learners to use essay writing, poetry, music and other forms as means to address social issues.
"I write about HIV and Aids, the dangers and how we the youth must make better decisions. The message is simple, we don't have to risk our lives," says Zuma.
She and her counterparts met with government representatives when they visited the local parliament where the South African Flag was flown high alongside the French Flag.
They devoured South American cuisine, the Kreol (local) cuisine, Mauritian, Italian, French and other cuisine as part of the Cultural Exchange Programme.
They learnt the significance of respecting other people's cultures and behaviours including their food even if they did not like it.
"We would have never been given this opportunity had it not been for this programme. Experiencing other cultures was amazing," Zuma says.
Kunene says KwaZulu-Natal has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Reunion Islands.
"The Reunion Government representatives said they were happy that the bilateral agreement signed in 2003 was beginning to take shape. In 2003/4, there was a big exhibition in Reunion Island called Terre Zulu. The Indian Ocean Island is truly multicultural and the learners were given an opportunity to experience cultural pluralism and diversity and indeed they did," he says.
During the earlier stages of the programme, the learners showed much excitement about it, explains Kunene.
"The Department of Arts and Culture has the tools that can be used to change negative social behaviour or to enhance positive social behaviour. A number of messages came through during the competition stages in local, district and provincial levels."
The art products, he says, reflected on issues relating to families, communities and the society. Some products and productions reflected on teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, road accidents and gender based violence.
"Behavioural change is not an instant thing but a process. One example of the message was the beautification of public space in uMzimkhulu where a painting along the road reflected road accidents and a sign reading, 'Don't drink and drive'.
"The feedback is that the sign has appealed to the learners and communities around the area and people are talking about the impact of accidents on our roads," says Kunene.