South African Orphans
In 2005, Michelle Potter traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, as a volunteer football coach. Some of her players on the team were homeless and resorted to begging on the streets to get by. Having left home at age 16, Potter was able to relate to the loneliness of entering adulthood without familial support and she wanted to help. In 2008, SAYes Transition Mentoring began. SAYes is a Transition to Independent Living (TIL) program that assists young South Africans, either living in or recently out of children’s homes, who are on the precipice of life on their own.

What SAYes Transition Mentoring Does

Governmental assistance for young South Africans living in children’s homes ends at age 18 and many do not have anywhere to go. SAYes Transition Mentoring pairs each participant with a highly trained mentor to offer support during this vulnerable transition period. Participants range from 14-25 years of age, giving priority to older youth, as they are the ones who are soon leaving or have already left residential care. Mentors work one-to-one with mentees for at least an hour a week during the nine-month program. The role of a mentor is to be a stable and non-judgmental ally. In many cases, this is the first positive relationship participants will have with an adult.

The Situation in South Africa

In 2019, South Africa ranked as the most economically unequal country in the world. This essentially means that the economy does not benefit all its people. In fact, the richest 20% of South Africans have control over almost 70% of the country’s resources.

SAYes is a program that emerged for those who are not fortunate enough to be in that top 20%. Many participants have had to leave their homes as a last resort because of abusive family situations. Some suffer from neglect, addiction, prostitution or an array of other adversities.

How SAYes Transition Mentoring Works

SAYes TIL care is specific to each participant depending on their age and developmental needs. The mentor offers guidance in education, housing, employment, personal development and community reintegration. One mentor, Mashudu Matshili, described the importance of mentorship with an old African saying: “If you want to know directions to a place, you need to ask those that have already reached the destination.”

The first few weeks, they get to know each other and find common ground. If the mentee is interested in a specific career field, the mentor might help facilitate an internship or job-shadowing opportunity. The mentor is a friend first, and then a guide to building the skills to live responsibly and independently.

Speaking fondly of his mentor, participant Destino Nzonzidi said, “I always say, I can forget away my pains, but not forget Tony for what he has done.” Many of the SAYes participants continue their relationship with their mentors long beyond the nine-month program and consider them family. More often than not, charities focus on young kids, not young adults. The benefit of SAYes Youth Mentoring has been huge and the proof in the success stories. SAYes Transition Mentoring serves over 100 young South Africans a year.

– Sarah Ottosen
Photo: Flickr