There’s a chance you’ve heard the name Yamkela Nqweniso. The seventeen-year-old Grassroot Soccer graduate and volunteer is, among other accomplishments, an HIV youth ambassador, a women’s rights activist, an MC, and a poet. In 2015, she was recognized as one of Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans in the Health category for her work in HIV awareness. 

On the eve of International Youth Day 2017, Nqwensio reflects on the challenges facing young people in her hometown of Khayelitsha, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa – and her plans to change the course of the future for the better. 

Yamkela Nqweniso (right) visits with comedian and television host Trevor Noah (left) in 2015 as part of a campaign for Comic Relief UK.

I want the world to know that young people of South Africa have a potential to create amazing things with their brilliant, positive minds. Every young person is unique from the other. We have different abilities to think, to create, as well as to control.  We have athletes, we have poets, we have vocalists, we have dancers, mathematicians, scientists; this is the potential that we have as young South Africans. We have the ability to think outside the box and to do things out of our vision and we are driven by passion.

The major problem that we are facing in my community, in Khayelitsha, is that there are young people who are using drugs and alcohol; many are part of gangs, which have taken souls, broken [the] hearts of our parents, and taken away our dreams. We live with fear in our communities […] it has created boundaries between us as young people. It has set those boundaries, in that we cannot communicate to each other; we cannot find each other’s interests; we cannot see what ability other young people have, and how can we benefit from each other.

I certainly believe that young people can change South Africa. They can change the whole world in general by being positive. I always say that it always starts with a positive mind. What you feed your mind is what you believe in. It all starts up in the head, and having a positive mind, having positive thoughts, therefore all the things you will be doing, they will also be positive.Because if you think positive, then [as a] a young person [you] can do […] positive things.

Another thing that we can do to change our world is that we can utilize the NGOs. […] They are created for us as young people. We can go there and volunteer. Let’s make those spaces our spaces. Let’s take over; let’s engage ourselves with most of the activities that are taking place in our communities. There’s nothing that feels better than taking part in some of the activities that are taking place in our communities. It gives you strength. It makes you feel like you are a person [who matters].

Imagine if all young people [gathered in] those spaces. […] Then we could build each other; we could motivate each other. Then we could build a better and a stronger country; a better and a stronger world to live in; a world where we would live without boundaries, a world where we would live without fear. We could live in a free country where we would be able to explore.

To learn more about Yamkela Nqweniso, visit this link for a collaborative digital story between Grassroot Soccer and StoryCenter.