Frustrated by the rate of rape, alcohol and drug abuse and crime tearing through the teenage population of communities around Matatiele, schoolteacher Nombini Maqelana stepped in to help.
“As a high school teacher in rural areas I saw the need to talk to young people about sex, drugs and alcohol. In our culture it is taboo to talk about sex, yet children become sexually active at an early age. They see it on TV and on their phones. They can talk to me about these things because I am not judgmental and they can trust me,” said Maqelana.
In 2010 she started a registered NPO called 5G which stands for Guys and Girls Gathering for God’s Glory, and has visited about 30 schools in her area but also as far afield as Port Elizabeth and Maclear to give motivational talks and counsel troubled teens in one-on-one sessions.
“I also do winter and summer camps or hire community halls and give motivational talks and sit down with them so they open up to me about their lives.”
Maqelana said although the emphasis of her talks is to encourage young people to concentrate on their studies not sex, many fall pregnant and resort to life-threatening back-street abortions.
“They get hurt or die because they are too scared to tell their parents and so they get advice from peers who often give bad advice,” said Maqelana who refers some cases to psychologists or doctors.
She said that even though she was accustomed to candid discussions about sex and abuse, a case she came across recently shocked her.
“A principal of a school in Maclear asked me to address the children. He told me a four-year-old boy was gang-raped by three boys aged 12, nine and seven and had to be hospitalised. The boys said they saw it on their phones.
“At the same school three young teenage girls were having sex with another girl in the toilets during school hours.”
She said another principal said more than 20 girls fall pregnant at his school every year after engaging in sex with boys in a nearby forest.
“I talk to young people about the risks they are taking with HIV/Aids,” she said. “Condoms are not provided because there are no clinics or because they don’t want to go to the clinics to get them.”
Maqelana has a full-time teaching job and is the mother-of-five, yet still finds the time and energy to visit youngsters in prison and counsel them when they are out on parole.
“Here in Maluti Township there are more taverns than anything else and so young people drink and then they fight and stab each other and end up in prison for murder, rape, fighting, selling drugs or stealing. In our local prison most of the inmates are under 30 years old.”
She visits offenders while they are behind bars and helps them reintegrate into their communities when they are free. “I realise there is a stigma against them in their communities when they are released and so act as a bridge. I also encourage them to study so that they don’t re-offend and go back to prison,” said Maqelana, who sometimes mediates between offenders and their victims after they have served their time.
She has recently found an effective way to reach an even wider audience and has a regular slot on Alfred Nzo Community Radio where she serves up her particular brand of youth empowerment. — firstname.lastname@example.org