Freedom Day Conversation with Genesis Chairperson Lesego Phaloane
Definition of freedom
When I reflect on what Freedom Day means for young people today, I would say that young people are redefining their own freedom. For the longest time, we’ve been told what freedom is, and often at times, they are just describing apartheid freedom. The type of freedom that is still holding people captive, limiting young people to how they can express themselves; but young people have switched off those voices, and have come to their own definition of freedom.
They have realized that there is a way that is greater than the freedom prescribed to us. It cannot be that in 2022 our identity will be defined according to apartheid! For the past 28 years, we have been given a narrative that we did not understand but are expected to obediently believe and live by it.
We are rewriting our own directives as young people. In the respect and honor of our forefathers, the narrative has to change through us taking ownership of our narrative.
Are we truly free?
We are free because the borders are open to us. We can go to foreign countries and represent South Africa through art, creativity, and academics; this gives us the opportunity to introduce ourselves as diverse as we are to the global community, and also export our culture to the rest of the world.
The fear of being original to us is long gone, Young people can be who they want to be and are not limited to what they can be. That is freedom.
America used to be a distant fantasy when I was growing up, but today it is just a plane ticket away from me. It was always a plane ticket away, but just not for me because my freedom was defined by apartheid.
Black people are learning to co-exist and appreciate our diverse and beautiful cultures among ourselves. We learn so much from one another through this beautiful exchange of thoughts. This makes us an incredibly powerful race.
We’ve come a long way with our education system. Look, there’s a huge room for improvement, but it is getting better. Teachers may seem to lack care because they are overworked, but the desire is there and that is something to work with. Our public education system has produced a lot of gems, people who have changed and are changing their families and community for the better.
If this education system can produce individuals like you and me, then it is not as bad as often portrayed. This does not mean that there are no challenges, a lot needs to be improved, but a lot needs to be appreciated as well.
I am deliberately sending my child to a public school because if he can thrive in that environment, then he can thrive in any other environment. I cannot just sit and complain about the state of our public education system while not doing anything about it. It is too easy to sit and point fingers, I believe that we all have a role to play in improving our education system.
Through Genesis, I get to do something about the state of our public education system.
Genesis is celebrating 10 years of grace. Looking back at these years, it has been a bowl of everything. We’ve had our highest of highs and lowest of lows where we felt like shutting down. But we’ve also seen young people coming through our programs and going on to achieve their dreams.
At the beginning of the project, we pushed hard on the academic part of education, but we have realized that not all learners are academically gifted, others are highly talented in creative art. Therefore, we have introduced art and creativity activities to our programs.
The biggest lesson we had to learn fast was that we needed to move away from other people’s validation of us. Expecting other people to validate you can be a huge hindrance because it requires you to satisfy their expectations of you and therefore misses out on your God-given purpose.
Our biggest heartache was seeing young people who have been part of our program falling through the cracks. We have had our main sponsors pull away from us. This pushed us to rely solely on God. Genesis is bigger than us, we are breaking barriers and therefore the future can only be brighter.
We are looking to build a Skills Center here in our community. We have seen young people giving up on themselves. It is a sad sight. Through this center, we are hoping to see young people explore who they are and use those passions within them to craft a career that will suit the characters.
The center will also help us to reach out to women and reassure them that even though we live in an age of gender-based violence, we can rise above it and be better than before.
We have recently introduced our health and hygiene program where we run campaigns in primary schools. While on the campaign, we have realized that mental health is a big issue as well. We have introduced the mental health aspect to the campaign, and we are hoping to partner with professional organizations to provide tangible help in schools.
The campaign is focused on primary school kids because we want them to get used to the idea that there is someone willing to listen to them.
My message to young people on this Freedom Day, especially young people who feel like they are at the end of their lives: there’s greatness within you that you have not realized nor explored, Don’t rush or manipulate it, rather allow it to develop. Life is a process, Allow the process to reveal the greatness within you because the world is waiting for you to be revealed.
Embrace all aspects of who you are, the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, and most of all, enjoy it. This is not the end, Give people who you are, at least for our sake, please be here a little longer.
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