Alumni Ambassador advocates empowerment and self-love in Girl Talk 

On the morning of May 11 2017, 40 Grade 10 and 11 learners from Thuto-Lesedi Secondary School in Vosloorus were invited to a Girl Talk event at the Youth Hall of the Acts Christian Church in Midrand. Founder of the event Palesa Tshabalala is an alumni of the TEACH South Africa Ambassador programme from the 2015 cohort. She organised the event to give her learners the opportunity to interact outside of the classroom environment in the hope that they will “develop an appreciation for the role they play in their own lives and those of others”.

The sessions were led by Ntokozo Mwelase of The Future Shapers Youth Club who run development programmes for high school students around the country. The event was a combination of discussions on socio-cultural issues, music and poetry, and an open Q&A between the learners, speakers and teachers.

The girls, aged 13 to 15, were engaged on various topics. They started with a discussion on ‘Life After High School’ presented by Rebecca Kano, a mentor and life coach. Sharing her own experiences of homelessness and working towards her current success, she emphasised that “life is not about where you are coming from…the most important thing is to know where you are going and to focus on your goals”. Learners agreed, some sharing their desires to become doctors and chartered accountants.

Amanda Khabanyana followed and spoke about her struggle with obesity, bullying and suicide. She said that through the process she “…discovered things about myself, my strength and capabilities that I didn’t know I had”. Her focus was to tell learners that a positive self-image and confidence “starts with self-love”.

Great confidence was demonstrated by 15-year-old learner Jeannette Khoza who – like many seated around her – faces challenges in life that forced her to find inner strength. Using poetry as a means of self-expression, she performed a piece on finding her identity while lamenting the country’s social, political and economic situation.

Xoli Ntuli, a colleague of Tshabalala, spoke of the larger societal issues. She addressed the topics of safe sex, teenage pregnancy, ‘blesser’ and ‘sugar daddy’ relationships, parentless households, and the huge impact of HIV/AIDS in communities. In a moment that touched all who were present, Ntuli asked for a moment of silence to honour those who have lost their lives in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

Having had the opportunity to open up to one another, Tshabalala gathered the girls in a circle on the lawn for the final Q&A discussion. Personal stories and advice were shared and learners were thankful with some saying that, “we have never had someone take the time to talk to us like this”. A representative of the church Thuli Monaheng finished off the day by asking the girls to make a promise to themselves to, “remember you are kind, loving, forgiving and strong; and you are enough!”.

In the end, Tshabalala’s Girl Talk initiative demonstrates the significance of a positive and engaging learning environment for children both in and out of the classroom. It shows that we all have the potential to make a difference in each other’s lives. Palesa says she will continue teaching because she has found a, “meaningful way to contribute to society by inspiring learners to dream big”. In doing this she has showed the learners that their lives and their dreams matter. The efforts of this day should be celebrated as an example of the change makers our future needs.

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