By Lesedi Ntuli
When Belinda Shange greets you, she beams – a huge, warm smile spreads across her face and her eyes twinkle. It quickly becomes clear that she has a talent for working with and helping people. As newly appointed programme manager for the local youth development project, Upstart, she makes it clear that her involvement “has been incredible”.
“These learners are amazing! It makes me really happy to see how passionate and confident they are, despite their different social and economic backgrounds,” she says. Although having spent just over five months in Grahamstown, Shange adds that she has learned a lot from the learners forming part of this multidisciplinary project.
“Engaging with the learners, just listening to them speak and air their frustrations – whether it’s about school, their social lives or any situation they’re faced with – is enlightening. And that is what Upstart is all about,” she says.
Shange says Upstart aims to create a space for learners to talk about issues that affect them and provide opportunities that develop their skills. “Basically, Upstart provides a multimedia platform for learners to share and discuss their concerns. However, because we do not have any private school learners, we focus mainly on… marginalised… learners so that they too can become part of the conversation,” she says.
Established in 2008 as a subgroup of Grocott’s Mail, the project was initially piloted as a youth newspaper, written and compiled by the learners, as a way of improving their reading, writing and communication skills. It has since evolved and is now situated in Joza. “Because all of the learners are from the township, we decided to move to Joza so that they could have easier access since it is just a walk away,” Shange says.
The programmes that Upstart runs are the Upstart Club, the Newspaper Project, the Yung Amplified Radio Show and the Short Film Project. Through these channels, learners are able to express their views on issues they confront in their daily lives.
“We also place great emphasis on critical thinking here at Upstart. We are all aware that some of these learners do not receive quality education, and because of this, it may become difficult for them to meet the requirements for entrance into a university like Rhodes,” she says.
Shange adds that there are many benefits of developing, nurturing and working in partnerships to achieve a common goal. “Together with our partners Fundza Literary Trust, The President’s Award, Rhodes University, Highway Africa and many others, we are able to provide learners with ways to develop their skills, enabling and empowering them to positively implement change in their lives and those of their communities,” she says.
“I am lucky to be working these young enthusiasts. Very soon they will be taking over the world,” says Shange, laughing.