Founder of Shaping New Minds aims to give pupils a hand-up to tertiary education

Organisation assists Kwelerha youth with mentorship programmes, applications, expos

Shaping New Minds founder Esethu Sotheni.
PROVIDING SUPPORT: Shaping New Minds founder Esethu Sotheni.
Image: SUPPLIED

Frustrated and despondent after his own experience of applying to tertiary institutions, Kwelerha-born Esethu Sotheni decided to start an organisation dedicated to helping other young people to not have to go through the same ordeal.

Since establishing Shaping New Minds in 2016, Sotheni, 24, has dedicated much of his time assisting high school pupils in various areas.

From career expos to mentorship programmes and assistance with tertiary education applications, Sotheni’s organisation is aimed at advocating for equal and quality education.

“I started Shaping New Minds back in 2016, when I was doing my first year at university.

“The previous year I had taken a gap year due to not having enough funds to study and to add to that, not understanding how the university application process works,” said Sotheni, who works as a mentor for local HIV and Aids prevention programme, Bumb’ingomso.

Sotheni also serves as the Eastern Cape Men’s Movement Youth Coordinator and as a Youth Advisory Panelist for the UN Population Fund.

“Out of this frustration and confusion I promised myself that I will not let it happen to anyone else.

“I drafted a proposal and sent it to a few friends.

“The idea was to host a career exhibition at my former high school with Grade 11 and 12 students.

“After the event we sat and reflected on how much of a success it was, and it was then that I decided to do it yearly and start an organisation to address other socio-economic challenges young people are grappling with.”

Sotheni began his community work in his village of Kwelerha.

“We have adopted Bhongolethu Senior Secondary School and Jongilanga High School in Kwelerha, but our work goes as far as reaching young people in the rural areas of Cofimvaba,” Sotheni said.

Operating via donations from the public as well as from his own pocket, Shaping New Minds has four volunteers and runs a six-month mentorship programme, an annual career expo and various youth workshops.

“Shaping New Minds is a youth-led organisation that seeks to advocate for equal education, gender equality, access to health services and eradicating gender-based violence and HIV prevalence among the youth,” said Sotheni, who holds a bachelor’s degree in applied communication management from the University of Fort Hare, and is pursuing a qualification in project management from the University of Pretoria.

“We have been championing rural youth development in some of the remotest parts of the Eastern Cape; this has been done through various initiatives that are meant to develop the rural child holistically.

“Some of the initiatives include our six-month mentorship programme that focuses on five thematic areas —  education, arts, community development, entrepreneurship and leadership.

“We have regular sanitary pad drives, career fairs, and motivational tours.

“As a youth organisation, our primary focus has been developing rural youth, having realised they are the most marginalised group of young people and make up the biggest demographic in this country.”

Sotheni said Shaping New Minds worked closely with other civil society organisations and government departments in an effort to implement their projects. 

He said one of the greatest rewards of running Shaping New Minds was being able to help change the lives of the youth.

“The biggest rewards have been providing young people with different opportunities, travelling the world representing young people because of this organisation, helping hundreds of young people apply to higher institutions of learning, changing lives of rural youth through our motivational tours and the ‘thank yous’ we receive on a daily basis from our alumni or people who have been impacted by our work,” said Sotheni.

He said knowing he made a difference, even just to one person’s life, kept him motivated.

“Knowing that with the little I have, I have impacted more lives than I could ever count, and because of my efforts someone wakes up every day striving to be better versions of themselves, they believe they can because we planted that seed,” said Sotheni.

“I am motivated by the change I see in my community, seeing young people being more driven and being active citizens who are determined to challenge the status quo.

“I do what I do because I understand what it means to not have, what it means to be hungry for opportunities when there’s none in your community.

“This has been my biggest driving force to not only tell young people that opportunities are there but provide them so that they do not make any excuses.

“I am driven by passion and knowing that one day I might produce the next president or ambassador of SA.”

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