Phoenix pupils rise from the ashes

The families of 20 Grade 12 girls from Phoenix High School, in Manenberg, experienced first-hand the impact a youth development project has had on their daughters.

Not only did these girls make positive changes in their lives, they also set the bar high for their successors, as part of their training resulted in them raising almost R30 000 in only three months, to upgrade their school hall.

The money raised was used to give the hall a fresh coat of paint, buy new curtains for the stage, spruce up the kitchen area, and inspirational quotes were also painted on the walls. This was the pupils’ way of leaving their legacy at the school.

The project started last year, with a mentorship programme and leadership training and is the corporate social investment (CSI) initiative of outsource company WNS South Africa, in partnership with NPO Khulisa Social Solutions. (“The phoenix rises in Manenberg”, Athlone News, March 15)

On Wednesday June 28, the Grade 12 pupils graduated from the programme, equipped with renewed confidence and leadership skills, strong friendship bonds, and a positive outlook on life.

One of the graduates, Albertha September, described her time on the project as a “great journey”.

She said there were lots of disagreements between her and fellow pupils on the project, but in the end, they remained a unit and successfully completed every task they undertook.

“I learnt new skills, but most importantly, I learnt leadership skills. This project showed me that nothing is impossible if you put your heart, mind and soul into it – with God on your side. No matter how hard things were, we made it through. I am so proud of all of us. We couldn’t have done it as individuals, but we did it as a team. I would like to thank all those who made it possible. We appreciate everything you have done for us,” Albertha said.

Her aunt, Sharon Galant, who she lives with, said she was proud of all Albertha’s achievements.

“I’ve also seen a huge difference in her attitude. She responds to challenges more appropriately now. She used to be very cheeky, but now she thinks before she speaks. I must add that I am a bit jealous that this programme is not available at my daughter’s school, as it really is effective,” Ms Galant said.

Mogamat Ismail Isaacs, the father of Zakierah Isaacs, another graduate, said the programme is “quite amazing”.

“Zakierah really changed. She was eager to go into this programme and I am happy she did. Her behaviour changed for the better, and she kept her focus on her studies and kept herself busy on this project,” Mr Isaacs said.

Jesse Laitinen from Khulisa Social Solutions, said they have worked with quite a few other schools, but their time at Phoenix has been very meaningful.

Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Ms Laitinen said: “I think this is just incredible. I want to thank all of you for sticking through when it was hard. You are all incredible young ladies and you have so much power within you.”

Chesly Cloete, the project manager, said he had to travel all the way from Atlantis to Manenberg for the project, but that the sacrifice was worth it.

“This project wasn’t an easy journey. The first time we met, the girls had to climb Lion’s Head. At first it seemed impossible to some, but they all managed to do it. So too, in everything they do, I would like them to reach the top, as they have already proven to us on this project.”

Speaking to the pupils, he said: “When I was in matric, there were times I had to go without food or electricity, but my goal was to pass matric. This is a crucial time in your lives. The skills we’ve given you, is to help you become independent. You ladies are phenomenal. We could not have done this without the support of WNS.”

Phoenix High School principal, Shafiek Abrahams, said what was nice about the fundraising initiatives the pupils implemented, was that their parents came on board as well.

He said the Grade 12 pupils’ efforts inspired the school’s first group of matriculants – the class of 1986 – who recently had their reunion, to also help with the upgrade of the school.

“This shows that the little seed you sowed, has now blossomed. A group of Grade 12 girls made this all possible. The former matriculants will upgrade our boys and girls toilets and fit new security gates at the school. This will remain the legacy of out 2017 matriculants,” Mr Abrahams said.

Magadien Wentzel, a facilitator from Khulisa Social Solutions, described his role of having to “deal with burning issues” affecting the girls, said he is proud of their achievements.

“I want to thank Mr Abrahams for allowing us to be here. I was given the task to choose a school to work with, and because Phoenix is near where I live, I chose to come here. We were also young, and can identify with the challenges young people face. We also once wanted to just party, and go clubbing. The girls resisted peer pressure and they achieved everything they put their mind to. They have done extremely well,” Mr Wentzel said.

A group of employees from WNS also “graduated” at the ceremony. These staff members offered up their free time over weekends to mentor the group of girls.

Among them was Mogammat Lasker.

When asked why he agreed to be a mentor, Mr Lasker said: “I come from Manenberg and I wanted to give back – to show the youth there is more out there and that they don’t have to succumb to circumstances.”

Shaun Nagel said he jumped at the opportunity to help “change someone’s life”.

“We know how they feel. Most of us come from the same background. We wanted to help – give them advice at least. We had no one who could help us in our situation, but now we have the opportunity to do that for someone else,” Mr Nagel said.