Men's empowerment in South Africa

Simpimwe has been working as a child care worker for the past five years. He’s from Queenstown and cares passionately about supporting his community. You can immediately sense this from the command he has over the group of young men I’m here to ...

Simpimwe has been working as a child care worker for the past five years. He’s from Queenstown and cares passionately about supporting his community. You can immediately sense this from the command he has over the group of young men I’m here to meet. He’s subtle, but definitely in charge.

Thanks to the funding from the Cathal Ryan Trust, Simpimwe trained to be a youth development facilitator last year. He now runs a men’s empowerment programme. The focus of the programme is to empower young men to make better choices. Masixole has been working with Simpimwe for the past year and explains to me that he didn’t realise he had a choice before. Just like so many young men from his impoverished community he spent his time in the local Shebeen. He drank every day and smoked Dagga to get high. This enabled him to forget about ‘things’. I gently asked what ‘things’ and his quiet response of ‘just things’ with a deep look of pain was enough for me to know that Maxisole has suffered trauma in his past. I asked what had changed and he pointed at Simpimwe.

Over the twelve-week programme the group discuss eight main themes; HIV, gender-based violence, male circumcision, heritage and tradition, drugs and alcohol, family planning, employment and how to become a man. Most of the discussions are with the group but there are also one-to-one sessions. Young men are encouraged to consider the type of man they’d like to become and the future they want. The youth development facilitators then take time to explain how the choices they make now will determine this.

Maxisole never knew his own father and his girlfriend is expecting their first child. It’s such a vulnerable time for any young person and without support the smooth transition into adulthood is almost impossible. Interventions at this time truly can change lives and break cycles.

Simpimwe encouraged Maxisole to complete his grade 12. He’s now hopeful that he’ll gain a place at a technical college in Queenstown next year. In the meantime, he’s being doing manual work and no longer goes to the Shebeen. None of this is possible without the dedication of child care workers like Simpimwe to act as role models and invest in young people. He claims that he got lucky. I probed further and he explained that whilst his father left when he was young he has a good mum, who never gave up on him.

Because it shouldn’t come down to luck, The Cathal Ryan Trust is investing $3.5 million in UNICEF’s youth empowerment programme in the Eastern Cape. This will equip child care workers like Simpimwe with the skills to influence young people in their community. Over the next three years the programme will reach over 8,000 young people, giving them better opportunities in life.