South African Delegation Visits LIFT-DC

By LIFT on February 5, 2016

Categories: First Person Perspective, Our Work

Site visits are fairly common at LIFT. It allows our donors to get a personal sense of how their money is being spent as well as a chance for them to see our day-to-day operations.  Since I don’t work in development, I hardly get involved with site visits, but this visit, however, was different.  When I heard that South Africa’s National Youth Service Programme (NYSP) was coming to LIFT at the Perry School, I was excited to share with them my experiences with Americorps and LIFT.

Over a year and a half ago, I spent a semester abroad at the University of Cape Town, so I was eager to learn more about one of my favorite countries’ government initiatives.  NYSP gets South Africa’s youth involved in meaningful service to their communities while also developing their abilities.  NYSP has been around since 2001, but they have recently decided to expand their program to reach more young people. This is where LIFT came in.

NYSP wanted more information about the Americorps program in general and wanted to get a sense of how LIFT’s Fellows were finding the experience. The representatives from NYSP asked each of us thoughtful questions about our Americorps and LIFT experience.  Not only did they want to know about our specific duties at LIFT, but they wanted a sense of what attracted us to LIFT, how working with our members changed our perception of poverty, and what obstacles we encountered while working with our members.  We all gave our candid opinions and experiences as we spoke about working in this lovely but dysfunctional city of D.C. We spoke about how most of our members are computer illiterate and face barriers which prevent them from finding employment and from having the quality of life that everyone should have access to.  We stressed the importance of our one-to-one interactions with our members and how LIFT is created on a partnership-helping relationship. We also could not ignore the discriminatory laws and unequal access to opportunities which have affected our communities of color.

The more we spoke about the barriers-including societal ones, the more this site visit made sense.  While there are vast differences between the United States and South Africa’s histories, the deeply-rooted structures of discrimination are ever-present in both.  So naturally, a lot of our motivations for service and obstacles we faced would be pretty similar for the South African youth who will eventually join NYSP.  Like most countries which suffered from a legacy of white oppression and systematic racism, South Africa is deeply complex. Despite its complexities, South Africa is constantly evolving and many of its youth are ready to face their countries problems head-on.  It’s an exciting time for NYSP to expand its program, just as it’s an exciting time for people passionate about social justice everywhere.