Gratitude, Optimism, and Perseverance: What I Learned From Disadvantaged Youths in South Africa
The most memorable and moving experience during my days in Johannesburg was a visit at a training course for disabled youths from disadvantaged—that is, nonwhite—communities, which is sponsored by Metrohm South Africa. Talking to the remarkable young course participants, I saw their will to learn and to take upon them whatever it takes to seize an opportunity. And they showed me a part of South Africa I hadn’t seen until then.
In 2003, the South African government passed the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) Act. BBBEE is meant to counterbalance the racial inequality in the country that is the result of the institutional racism and racial segregation during apartheid.
Even though the political system of apartheid ended in the early 1990s, a large part of the damage it’s done has still to be repaired. Black African, Colored, and Indian South Africans, who were the victims of the apartheid, still suffer from the consequences of being forced to live on the fringe of society for the better part of 50 years. In the scope of BBBEE, companies support the empowerment of disadvantaged individuals—for example, through skills development. In exchange, this improves the companies’ BBBEE scores, which is necessary, for example, to work with government-funded businesses.
Leanne from Metrohm’s Cape Town office and Sam from the Johannesburg office took me to Lenasia South, a township outside Johannesburg, to visit a training course for disabled youths from disadvantaged communities. Metrohm supports this course financially.
Walking into the class made me feel a bit uneasy at first: meeting these young adults whose lives have been much harder than mine, I started wondering whether I deserve everything I’ve got—and the answer is clearly no. Of course I’ve worked hard. But growing up in a fairly privileged environment, every effort I make falls on fertile ground and is much more likely to bear fruit than it is for these kids.
Metrohm supports the course through a small organization called Blue Pin Trading, which sets up skills development courses and helps companies like Metrohm allocate their sponsorship money so they can meet their BBBEE targets.
With the introduction of BBBEE, the demand for organizations like Blue Pin Trading grew. Unfortunately, the demand has created a breeding ground for companies looking to take advantage of the situation. «It’s really scary to give money to these companies because you never know if they will just take it,» says Leanne, Marketing and Sales Coordinator at Metrohm SA. But with trusted former Metrohm South Africa employee Wimpie working at Blue Pin Trading, they know their money will benefit those in need. What is also important is that Blue Pin Trading is intent on keeping incidental expenses, such as administration and advertising costs, as low as possible. This way, they can reach more people with the money at their disposal.
My unease faded quickly when we started talking to the ten young participants of the course. We heard about their ambitions to finish the course, which for many is not as simple as it may sound: one student told us how he had to take three minibus taxis every morning to get there—and endure harassment from the other passengers for his disability. But we also heard about their endearing optimism and big dreams, like going abroad—or simply finding a good job.
I was moved by the genuine gratitude that these young people expressed for the opportunity to take part in the course and thereby improve their chances of finding a job. It proves just how few opportunities they usually get. I can only admire them for their courage and perseverance and thank them for giving me a new perspective.