YouthBuild Newark inspires South Africans

YouthBuild Newark students show South African officials our independent living facility under construction on South Orange Avenue. PHOTO BY AKINTOLA HANIF

Most YouthBuild Newark students haven’t heard stories of apartheid, a form of racial segregation similar to the Jim Crow laws of the South. But they have some things in common with the youth of South Africa, which didn’t abolish apartheid until 1994.

“Although we may be worlds apart, the issues we face are very much the same: Poverty, unemployment. I hear you have a high drop-out rate in Newark, too…And I’m sure you’ve probably experienced some form of racism,” Yershen Pillay, an official with the South African National Youth Development Agency told students. (NYDA)

But the South African government sees YouthBuild as a way to change that.

It wants to create YouthBuild programs throughout the country.  Today, officials toured YouthBuild Newark, looking for ideas.

YouthBuild International chose our site because it gets good results–85 percent of our graduates find jobs and continue their education–and because we’re expanding , said Tim Cross, president of YouthBuild International.

“It’s a young site that went from a start-up to a sophisticated program that works with young people in creative ways,” said Cross.

South African officials visited a student morning meeting and toured our independent living facility on South Orange Avenue. They also talked to staff, gathering information.

Executive Director Robert Clark explained that while YouthBuild Newark students get plenty of support here, they can’t always expect it from family and friends. “Transformation can be lonely,” he said. “The challenge is how do you create an opportunity for young people to stop living in the shadows and come out and be who they are without feeling ashamed?” he said.

In South Africa, the poor live in shacks and poverty rates are much higher than they are in Newark. But youth share the same sense of discouragement, said officials.

YouthBuild Newark Executive Director Robert Clark speaks with South African official Yershen Pillay. PHOTO BY AKINTOLA HANIF

“We might not be as poor, but a lot of people here have the minds of poor people,” said Derick Moore, 24.

But South Africans saw cause for hope at YBN. “I am going back to South Africa and I am going to say ‘I saw young people from the ghetto eager to change their situation for the better,” ‘ said Steven Ngubeni, chief executive officer of the National Youth Development Agency. “That pleases me.”



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