Principle 2: Believe in our own strengths

Once we appreciate ourselves and each believe in our own strengths then we start taking action.

13-year old Themba* is a lot like other boys his age. He is sociable and funny, energetic and vibrant. And life stretches before him, full of hope and possibility.

But Themba’s dreams for his future are a little different to many of his male peers in Nyanga, a sprawling peri-urban township in Cape Town, South Africa. While other boys cherish hopes for a professional soccer career, or fighting crime in the police force, Themba dreams of becoming a world-renowned fashion designer.

Speaking at the modest Africa Unite offices in Nyanga, Themba’s face lights up as he enthusiastically describes his vision: “At school, my favourite subject is Business Studies, but after matric, I really want to go to design school and create my own line of clothes for women". He speaks with ease, his excitement infectious.

Life can be tough for a boy like Themba. Life in an African township can be especially difficult.

Themba knows all too well that authenticity – being true to yourself, especially when you’re different from everyone else – comes at a high price. Despite his seemingly-confident, outgoing personality, he has had to struggle to overcome low self-esteem and to come to terms with his sexuality in a community where he was often teased about the tone of his voice and his manner of speaking, and excluded because of his gestures and mannerisms.

But Africa Unite has offered Themba an oasis in the midst of a wilderness – a place of sanctuary – and he has found here, over a period of several years, a place of acceptance and belonging. Africa Unite incorporates a Human Rights aspect into every activity of its work with the children of this community. Over time, children have learned about respect and inclusion and compassion for others, and their attitudes towards other people who seem different – like Themba – have changed.

“I love to be here at the centre," says Themba. "I can’t wait to come after school, and I never want to leave when the activities are over at the end of each day. I can’t believe that one day I’ll be too old to come anymore, but until then I plan to keep coming. My favourite activity is the dance group I’m a part of – it really helps me express myself, and gives me a way to perform for my community. I feel open to talk to the psychologist here, and it makes me feel free in life. At Africa Unite, I am accepted and valued by everyone. I think other organizations should create opportunities for peer educators, just like at Africa Unite. It has made me feel good to support other children to talk about their feelings and to listen to their problems.”

* Not his real name.

** Themba''s story is shared as an outcome of a partnership between The Constellation and Cordaid to capture good practise and experience from Cordaid's South African partners. For a profile on AFRICA UNITE and reflections on video, see *

Shared by Ricardo Walters


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