Journey To Change is a pupil run committee which exists in both Selkirk and Lasswade High School in Edinburgh. Our committee’s aims are to make strong links with Scottish pupils and young people in the township of Umlazi, in South Africa and to raise awareness of gender inequality which effects both Britain and South Africa.  The committee was hugely successful last year, giving us more ambition and big plans for this year.

Our main connection with South Africa is the township Umlazi, located on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, south west of Durban. Umlazi has inherited the dismal effects of the apartheid system. The apartheid system separated races, with white people ruling. This resulted in other races being left in poverty, with barely any rights. Despite this being abolished in 1994, the effects and aftermath of the system can still be felt today, all over South Africa. This area experiences the typical township problems on an even bigger scale as it is the second largest township in South Africa.  These problems include: Housing shortages, unemployment, little economic development, and high crime rates. Many are uneducated, with only a 36% completion rate, and poverty is rife, with 75% reportedly having no income. Housing is a massive problem. Some of the students we met last year reported not having showers, and having to wash themselves and their clothes in buckets.  Opportunities for young people to escape the cycle of poverty are almost non-existent. As a committee, we have tried to form links with students from Umlazi with help from a charity who do a lot of good in township communities called The Jabulani project.

Whilst the apartheid has ended, it has left in its wake memories of racism, poverty and gender inequality, which has been the theme of our conferences and work as a committee. Last year our committee spoke at a conference at Lasswade High School, to an audience of schools and human rights groups across Scotland, about gender inequality. We decided to research the issue locally, and we talked mainly about gender roles and stereotypes in today society, and how it affects young people. We conducted surveys in the high school, and also produced a video about gender perceptions, by interviewing primary school children and high school pupils. We got some really good feedback. The conference was hugely successful with the band Young Fathers performing and giving a talk about male suicide.

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Lasswade hosted a group of South African students and they performed truly inspiring dramas, sang and danced to show us how gender inequality and poverty manifests itself in their society, in a much more shocking and violent way.  Their passion, confidence and talent was overwhelming and they really introduced us to the rich South African culture.

Last year, whilst the students were hosted by Lasswade pupils for most of their stay in Scotland, we had the privilege to host them here for one day. They spent a day at the school, in which they visited Modern Studies classes and talked about their experiences in South Africa, which pupils at the school still make reference to today. We introduced them to Selkirk Life taking them to the Rugby Club, the Haining and of course, we did not let them leave without a visit to the Taste of Spice. We all had a great time, especially when they discovered snow and ice for the first time and thought they could walk across the loch.10996471_1064825823543655_89289591841276221_n (1)

It is important to realise that our committee is not about taking in some poor African students and treating them to a western lifestyle; it was a mutual learning experience. A prime example of it is them breaking into song in Zulu whilst we all sat in the rugby club- it was a true exchange of cultures and such a unique privilege. We introduced them to our culture, and they, in turn, told us about their different lifestyle in all aspects such as politics, art and sadly poverty. It was truly eye-opening and in many ways inspiring to see how  to also realise how people with so little can be so grateful, kind, and maintain such a brilliant sense of humour. One of the boys said to me that his main driving ambition in life was to one day live in Scotland, and when I asked him what he would like to do he said he didn’t care, he just wanted to work, as the country is so welcoming and beautiful, which I feel shows how rewarding this experience was for both groups.

This year we are pushing ourselves even further. We are preparing for another conference about gender inequality at Lasswade, and we are taking on the issue of domestic violence.  We also are trying to raise funds to host two South African students here for a week, and for a charity which provides shelter for victims of domestic abuse in South Africa.  In total, we need to raise at least £700 by January.

As we talked about earlier, domestic violence and gender inequalities are huge issues in South Africa and there just is not the safety net for victims or the programmes in place to help them like we have in Britain. We urgently need to raise money to fly the students across, and without they simply will not make it. We also need to cover the costs of hosting these pupils here in Selkirk for a week. Last year, we learned so much, but one day simply was not enough. We feel the whole community could benefit from this experience.

We have a lot of fundraising to do in this coming year, and we are already well under way with raising the funds. On the 9th October 2015, we held a Wear What You Want Day, which raised over £285 and on Wednesday 4th November, we hosted a bake sale. We are pleased with how much we have raised so far, and have even more plans for our future. We hope to host a quiz night in late November, as well as more small fundraising events within the school. Two members of the committee, Rose and Jack, accompanied Miss Swan to a Rotary Club meeting, where they discussed the committee with the club. The Rotary seemed very interested in the committee, even offering to help us with our quiz night, and are now eagerly anticipating meeting the two young South Africans who are visiting in February.

Hopefully, this article has helped you to understand what the Journey To Change committee is doing, and how important it is.