By Motebang Matsela (on behalf of CORC)
Yona Yethu is a group formed on 25 April 2013 by eight youth members of the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP) who reside in Blue Gum View section of Gauteng’s Duduza informal settlement. With the aim of changing their environment the group formed a non-profit organisation that goes under Yona Yethu, with a membership that has increased to 42 dedicated individuals.
Yona Yethu Background
The sprawl of unemployment within this community led the group to come together and address unemployment in an effort to alleviate poverty, drug and alcohol abuse. This motivated the group to make a difference within their neighbourhood, hoping to extend their initiative to the greater community, in time. While other youth point fingers at the government, blaming it for unemployment in townships, Yona Yethu thinks of different ways of tackling their social concerns.
Yona Yethu Projects
Cleaning of dumping site
The group started with cleaning and clearing an illegal dump site situated near their settlement. They first mobilised each other around environmental concerns and lack of recreational space. Secondly, they created an opportunity to generate income through recycling, a car wash and waste & refuse management initiative which includes bin cleaning, arts & crafts and landscaping. Initially the funds generated were utilised to register this entity legally as a cooperative with the relevant department or institution. Presently the income is directed towards savings. The savings are timeously utilised for operations and purchasing of new materials where deemed fit.
Fighting illegal dumping brought about a concern for the environment and taking actin to ensure the safety of children who were often seen playing in the rubble and refuse that posed health and safety hazards. The team embarked on cleaning those sites to create what they regarded as an informal community park. The social spaces that they managed to create through beautiful landscaping has been their response to the lack of recreational spaces in their township, for the youth and adults to enjoy equally.
Yona Yethu won the Botho ke Bokamoso Award (Humanity is the Future Award) for the best new project in 2014, hosted by the Ekurhuleni Metro Municipality. This award was accompanied by a prize of R50 000 shared amongst two groups. They have managed to build a working partnership with the Municipality which is committed to giving ongoing support through agricultural training programs. With this skills training the members are looking at developing food gardens to sell freshly harvested produce which will be used as a form of income generation and to tackle youth unemployment.
Added to this commitment, the waste and refuse management team receives training which supplies them with refuse bags and other materials to conduct their work. The municipality has also scheduled a new training for the youth which will focus on water and sanitation with the possibility that after completion of training the youth will get employment from the relevant department.
Duduza resident, Innocent Ndlela, said he is very proud of what the young people are doing for the community while also making ends meet at home. He encouraged them to continue doing a good job that benefits the community:
“I like that they are fighting against one of the biggest challenges in our township which is illegal dumping. Many residents, including children have been sick as a result of the filthiness in the dumping sites next to our homes. It is not always up to the government to create jobs but the youth needs to stand up and pave their way to success.”
The hard work conducted by the team has lured external stakeholders like Valley Steel to support the team with protective gears such as gloves,boots and overalls that will be useful in the daily activities of the group.
Moreover, this team has been attracting the interest of other external stakeholders like Valley Steel which supports the team with protective gear like gloves, boots and overalls to conduct their daily activities. Interested parties like this were drawn in by the efforts put by Yona Yethu. It was evident that there are concerned citizens of South Africa making it easier for support to come.
The recycling program includes the collection of recyclable materials which the group sell to recyclers once a certain amount is reached. This is done through their waste & refuse management activities, where they identify any recyclables from households refuse bins before the Municipal waste removal teams collect the contents in the township on Tuesdays. As soon as the municipal collection is done, the group washes the bins and fits them with a new refuse bag as a service to those willing to pay for it. The charge for cleaning in R20 which rises to R30 with an addition of a refuse bag. The income generated is reinvested back into the business, some saved and some is used to pay wages to those conducting the work.
Unemployment drove the youth to come together and share their skills and knowledge in order to create employment for themselves. The members have different skills and interests, though all aimed at one goal. This has allowed the group to be involved in different projects such as performances, making arts and crafts. Regular meetings to collect creative ideas and share thoughts and skills in the process are an important feature. The money made is invested back into the business for equipment and materials, and the rest follows similar processes as mentioned above.
Their artistic ability is evident on a daily basis through art installations created with the ones partaking in the landscaping through artefacts like water fountains. Hlabane Mokoena, a member of the organisation, also pointed to the installation of a self-built water fountain at the park.
“With the different skills that each one of us has, we work together to provide the community with what is useful to them. We also make profit from self-made wire-cars. One of our challenges are residents who undermine us ” said Mokoena. Others give discouraging comments, doubting our ability”
Not far from the park is a car wash that the group has opened with the aim of generating income. This was one of the initial ideas the team identified as a income generation method, that is still operational till today. The car wash is actually one of the profitable undertakings by this team as it generates a large amount without a high initial capital cost. The car wash employed four of the Yona Yethu members who are committed daily to the operations and bookkeeping as needed. The team is then paid from the profits that it generates. One challenge experienced with this particular business is the competition the group faces as there are many carwashes operating in the surrounding area. This means that they have to work hard to uphold a good reputation and strengthen their marketing.