Violence is a global issue, but an even more pervasive problem in South Africa where high levels of inequality, poverty, and unemployment exist. Violence hinders social development and quality of life but is particularly destructive for the country’s vulnerable communities that tend to bear the brunt of these challenges.

South Africa’s tendency to violence has sadly also made an impression on its youth, with violent crimes increasingly taking place in schools. “While the statistics are shocking, they do not accurately represent the actual reality of what is happening on the ground,” says social worker and head of the Schools Intervention programme at Rays of Hope in Alexandra Township, Jacob Tema. “In Alexandra Schools and within the wider Alexandra community for example, there are many unreported cases of violence. Ongoing community programmes that are dedicated to educating the wider community is one way we can start to address these issues.”

Rays of Hope is a non-profit organisation that has been working in the community of Alexandra Township to help address and overcome poverty, violence, inequality and other issues for the past 32 years. Among its many valuable programmes, Rays of Hope has established the Rays of Hope Schools Intervention programme, which aims to #CatchThemYoung by educating and equipping learners with the tools they need to overcome their challenges and become more resilient, contributing members of society. Topics covered include gender-based violence, sexuality, anger management, bullying and toxic masculinity.

“Considering the environment that the majority of learners in Alex grow up in, it’s plain to see that the youth are far more susceptible to joining in on or becoming victims to problems like bullying, teenage pregnancy, and drug abuse,” says Tema. “Through this approach we are not only giving these learners a chance at better futures, but we are also changing the narrative at a foundational level, one child at a time.”

Tema says that the Schools Intervention programme embraces a holistic approach to the learner’s development by including workshops and support services for the learners as well as parents and educators. “This,” he says, “stems from the understanding that children are a product of their environments and changing their perspectives requires buy-in from everyone around them.”

“Introducing new ways of thinking and behaving at school level is one part of the solution, but for these interventions to be successful in eradicating social ills, we need to consider the influence of a child’s community and support structures. Our goal is to take a more preventative approach to our work with Alex youth, instead of crisis management when the problems are far greater and difficult to address,” he adds.

In addition to the broader programme, a group of students identified by their school as “trouble-makers” attend an intensive 8-week anger management programme. Smangaliso Kubeka, a learner living in Alexandra who was part of one of these programmes, says, “The relationship with my dad was very rocky. We lived in the same house, but it got to the point where we never spoke, just greeted in passing. Even at my age (17), he never taught me things or tried to share any life lessons with me. It made me angry, and with me it became a thing that I might become suicidal, so I knew I needed help. I don’t think I would be here now if it wasn’t for Mr. Jacob and the programme.”

The Schools Intervention programme is in its second year running at four primary schools and two high schools in Alexandra, although almost every school in the area has requested the intervention. If you, your company or someone you know is able to support this programme and enable Rays of Hope to reach more young people, kindly contact [email protected] or click here to make a donation today.