It’s a Saturday morning and the Ekhaya Multi Arts Centre is buzzing with activity. The sounds of a gospel choir rehearsal spill out of the auditorium, as hip hop pumps from the speakers in a dance class a few doors down. 22 year-old Monde Ndelu glides through the halls with a sense of ease. He reaches a small room with green, soundproof walls, where a group of teens are huddled around a broadcast desk prepping for an interview. This is the VibeFM community radio station in KwaMashu, on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa. Every week, Monde meets the Vibrant Youth Reporters – teenage journalists trained by the Children’s Radio Foundation – to help them produce and broadcast radio shows on issues that impact their lives and community. “Through radio, listeners get the opportunity to explore the types of topics that they want to explore. If they want entertainment, they can get it from the radio. If they want to learn, they can learn from radio. If they want to hear the latest news, they can get important updates from radio.”
The door shuts, and the sounds of the arts centre fade away. The Vibrant Youth put their headphones on. The “on air” sign lights up, and Monde starts the broadcast: “Together, let us enhance public awareness of domestic violence, intimate partner violence, service and shelters for abused women, and stand up in support of women’s issues.” The young reporters reach out to their teenage listeners and community members in a way that makes discussing sensitive topics like this easier. They’re knowledgeable and passionate about the subject and open a space for all opinions and experiences to be heard.
The Ekhaya Multi Arts Centre is a haven for the community of KwaMashu, which is known for its vibrant performing arts scene and rich history. KwaMashu was built in the late 1950s as a settlement for black South Africans who were forcibly removed from a nearby community classified as whites-only by the apartheid government. Formerly a sugar cane plantation, KwaMashu quickly became an important site of anti-apartheid activism. Today, it is known for its active and tight-knit community, which works tirelessly to combat overcrowding, high crime rates, and other challenges.
For Monde, radio is both a positive outlet for his creative pursuits and a vehicle that he can use to mobilize the community around these issues. He has been broadcasting with the Children’s Radio Foundation at VibeFM for five years. Starting age 17 as an aspiring activist and entertainer eager for training and an opportunity to share his talents, now, he’s a successful radio producer and presenter who serves as a mentor to new recruits.
Monde did not always know that he wanted to be a radio journalist. As a kid, he was into soccer and music: “You would find me at the sports ground or you with my friends playing games and singing.” After an hour or so, his grandma would call on him to make sure he was okay and bring him a sweater. A self-described quiet child, he followed the example set by the grandparents who raised him. Many young people around him are the victims of a society that is not designed for them to thrive. Inadequate education, chronic unemployment, and a lack of attention on creating youth opportunities leads to high incidences of violence and crime, drug and alcohol abuse, and teenage pregnancy. “You see young people excited by the chance to make money through criminal activities, and they don’t even realize they are blowing away their futures. A lot of the guys I once played soccer with now own cars because of crime. Either that, or they’re in jail or they’re dead.” Monde has felt the fear of being in front of a gun and saw a friend get shot. He made a deliberate choice to take a different path.
In high school, Monde made friends who shared his interests and desire to succeed. “That is when I fell in love with the person that I was trying to become. I fell in love with the activist in high school, the soccer player, and the entertainer. That is when I began to discover the type of person I am supposed to be.” A friend invited him to join a Children’s Radio Foundation workshop, and he was thrilled to find a group of young people who cared about the same issues as he did and were actively engaging in dialogue on the radio and hosting community outreach events to get their community members involved. He joined the program that day and started training in radio journalism. He learned to research, interview, produce, and present and became more confident as his skills developed. “I started to learn more about the system, the mentalities of people, the narratives that are being told versus the reality of the situation, trying to understand people more, trying to understand myself more.”
Monde lost his grandfather shortly before taking his final high school exams. His grandmother had already passed on. As he considered his next steps, he felt the absence of their guidance and support. Many South African youth remain stuck in a precarious transition period. They’ve finished high school, but haven’t obtained employment and may not have the resources to access higher education. The longer they are disconnected from social support and opportunity, the greater the chance is that they are locked out of economic opportunity long term. Through his involvement with the Children’s Radio Foundation, Monde had a nurturing community at a difficult time. He earned a certificate of achievement and skills that he says are essential to gaining employment and are lacking in the education system. “When you leave with matric (high school exams), you don’t have any tangible skills. You’ve just passed and want to look for a job, but you still need training. The first thing employers see is that I have a radio background, so they know that I do in fact have experience that a lot of my peers lack when applying for their first jobs. I have never been rejected in an interview, because I have learned how to speak and they trust me because of my (Children’s Radio Foundation) certificate.”
Radio is often called the pulse of communities across Africa. It reflects the concerns of the day and speaks to local realities. Radio has given Monde a means to connect with his listeners, to get them speaking about difficult topics, and to become an advocate for change. Monde has used his platform to draw attention to the high rates of gun violence in KwaMashu.
Teens and young adults everywhere have so much to give. They’re imaginative, collaborative, and have their finger on the pulse of popular culture. Their energy and talents just need an opportunity and an outlet as they transition into adulthood. Whether they decide to attend college or seek employment, the Children’s Radio Foundation prepares youth for their next steps after high school and helps them use their voice to switch their magic on.
Since our inception, we have trained over 2,400 youth reporters who share similar stories of transformation. Your support makes our work possible.
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Photos: Sydelle Willow Smith