Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
African youth grow up in challenging environments and confront many social issues that inhibit their ability to acquire an education and positively shape their future. Most communities are challenged by high rates of poverty, HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancies, abortions, suicides, school dropouts, substance abuse, sexual abuse and violence. Young people have to contend with these challenges, as well as the pressure of their education, while making decisions that affect their future. This is further complicated by a lack of access to information that can help them make positive choices for their futures.
The UN World Youth Report (2011) indicates that only 18 percent of secondary schools in South Africa incorporate complete HIV/AIDS education in their curriculum and that 75 percent of youth in Zambia and Lesotho aged between 15 and 19 years old do not know that an HIV positive person may look healthy. Most organizations, including the government, are working to provide youth with life skills education over and above the education curriculum to help them understand the social issues in their environment. This information is also made available through the media (for example, on TV, Radios, in Newspapers and on billboards). However, these programs do little to enable positive behavior change in the absence of reliable role models for young people both at school and in their communities.
Peer pressure is the most influential force on young people and their life choices often reflect what is considered the ‘norm’ in their social circles. Negative peer pressure is one of the leading causes of young people adopting risky behavior patterns. These behavior patterns lead them to make poor choices that have lasting negative implications or their lives. The Encyclopedia of Children’s Health Journal (2010) indicates that most adolescents are introduced to alcohol, drugs and sexual behavior through peer pressure. Young people that lack appropriate guidance and role models to shape their behavior are more susceptible to making poor decisions that rob them of a bright future. Most of the social challenges facing young people today, such as substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, school drop outs, crime and gangsterism, are influenced and perpetuated by peer pressure.
In addition to these challenges, young people also lack the confidence and leadership skills to complement their academic education and enable them to become responsible change makers in schools, communities and workplaces. The academic curricula in most African countries, including South Africa, is still biased towards theoretical skills and places less importance on practical skills development. As a result, students graduate from their studies with educational qualifications but lack the confidence, capability and drive to act upon social challenges in their environment and influence change in their communities. They also have difficulty coping with an increasingly dynamic and quickly changing workplace environment in which employers expect them to be proactive problem-solvers. However, most existing informal leadership training and skills-development do not equip young people with recognized and accredited qualifications for these change making skills that supplement their high school education.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Young people in African countries have fewer opportunities to access the knowledge, skills and confidence to achieve their full potential and influence positive change in their schools and communities. Susannah created Generations of Leaders Discovered (GOLD) to develop social capital in African youth. By employing a structured three-year curriculum, GOLD trains and educates potential young leaders and role models in schools and communities who educate, guide and mentor their peers. These young leaders urge their peers to adopt a positive way of thinking about their lives and encourage their peers to overcome the social challenges they face.
Susannah’s model is built on three axes: (1) leadership training, (2) peer pressure and (3) social engagement in their communities. This is an integrated extra-curricular model that helps young people exit the education system as accomplished and confident change leaders in society. GOLD recruits learners from various schools and provides them with intensive leadership, peer education and life skills training to transform them into qualified peer educators who spearhead positive behavior change in schools and communities. Susannah employs a methodology that runs parallel to, and complements, the school curriculum without actually interfering with it. The participants graduate with a leadership and peer education certificate that is accredited and recognized within the South African National Qualification Framework and can be used to access employment opportunities. Susannah’s ultimate objective is to increase the employment opportunities and employability of young people by creating the development of a recognized career option in youth leadership and Peer Education. This makes GOLD more than just an informal youth-leadership course or life skills training program.
The trained peer educators then strategically use peer pressure, a powerful force among the youth, to influence positive behavior change in their colleagues both at school and in the communities they come from. The viral effect of this outreach ensures that the negative effects of peer pressure are diminished and replaced by positive behavior change. This aspect of her work minimizes the ill effects of negative peer pressure, such as drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, abortions, teenage suicide, school dropouts and other criminal behavior. As a result, young people are more focused on their education and other constructive engagements that boost their academic performance and improve their chances for further education and employment opportunities. Finally, GOLD stimulates the spirit of social change and community action in youth by inspiring them to be change leaders through designing and implementing their own community activities. The peer educators are confident and inspired to identify resources in their communities that can be used to create solutions to their problems.
The sustainability and spread of GOLD model is based on the viral effect of peer education, in which accomplished educators advance to the next level of the program and recruit and help educate new entrants into the program. This ensures that the principles of GOLD are entrenched in the schools and communities even after trained peer educators have left to seek other opportunities outside the community. After its inception in South Africa in 2004, the model expanded to Zambia in 2009 and has now started in Botswana. To date, GOLD has trained more than 2,800 peer educators in over 58 communities, working with over 13,000 youth. Through an income-generating arm of GOLD, Susannah has adapted the model to create a product called Peer2Peer, which is a branded ‘do it yourself’ package for peer education. Peer2Peer is franchised out to organizations working in youth education that have plans to incorporate peer education into their programs. Susannah has established a partnership with South Africa’s Department of Education to pilot the Peer2Peer package, which is now being implemented in nine schools in the Western Cape Province. She plans to do the same in Zambia and Botswana.