"If you wish to take street children off the street, you may best be advised to ask a reformed street-kid to do that for you. It takes one to understand one, get through to one, and to influence one. This is a simple concept, yet many people fail to understand it. Imagine. Millions spent each year by people who think they can change others through mere education and/or fear management. Yet many do not even know, let alone understand, and never mind accept, the cause nor the effect of their chosen intervention or campaign..." - Richard Yell
Imagine a business that could reduce crime. Imagine that business had existed for seven years, understanding the wild streets of South Africa and identifying the cause. Imagine that business had a personal relationship with crime gangs and knew their leaders. Imagine that business had recruited those leaders to turn their back on crime and instead face a future of healing, regeneration and employment. Imagine these leaders then turning to the streets to recruit other youths to go through the same process. Imagine those youths becoming pop stars, artists, filmmakers and a chef in Fifteen, Jamie Oliver restaurant in London. Imagine this process costing half of what it costs to keep a child in detention – a crime recruitment programme.
Our Vision Children do not belong on the streets
The MylifE Project was established by Linzi Thomas in June 2002 (who has spent seven years working with the children/youth on the streets of South Africa) and has been run with the full participation of ex-street youths for the past two years. The project has proven, through the examples of the ex-street youth who have participated in it, that with guidance and structure these youths are able to rebuild a life for themselves away from the crime and troubles of the street. Their direct experience of street life, together with their insights and understanding, have been integral in enabling the project to gain conceptual clarity for the planning and design of appropriate and effective interventions. Giving young people their own means of expression and enabling them to be seen and heard culminates in a win-win situation for them and the communities in which they now find themselves.
Institutionalisation (shelters, homes, prisons, places of safety, hospitals)
Addictions (alcohol, drugs, etc)
Abuse (physical, emotional, sexual)
Disease (e.g. TB and HIV/AIDS)
Violence (against and perpetrated by)
Gang culture and criminal activity. Varied levels of education
Dysfunctional family situations.
Wiseman Dinizulu spent 12 years of his life in the street cycle. He has been working as a technician in the film industry with international casts and crews for the past two years. He now rents his own accommodation and is self sufficient. He bought his first car in February 2004.
Sifiso Jezile spent 12 years in the "cycle" known as street life. He is a co-founder of the MylifE Project and now sits on its board of directors. He spent two years working in the South African film industry where he met Coolio and performed with him in Cape Town.
He wrote "Who am I" and is busy working on his second CD. He is currently studying Sound Engineering at City Varsity.
Damian Snyders says: "At the age of eight years I made my way to the streets of Cape Town feeling unloved, unwanted and in need of care. I got stuck in a 'hole' where I learnt crime in order to survive. I met up with the Waterkant kid's gang and before I knew it I was breaking into cars and my power on the streets was increasing. I had survived my 'initiation'. My path lead me into reformatories, shelters, children's homes, prisons and always back onto the street. I was now a 'wise' criminal and I took crime to a different level, robbing tourists, operating with a knife, breaking into houses and my life was now operating in the dark. The more I hurt people to satisfy my addictions, the worst my life became and I landed up in Polsmoor Prison. "Overnight my life was what I visualized 'hell' to be and I learnt to be a man, a crook and a liar - survival was taking on a new meaning. "I dream to work with the government (mainly the justice system) to ensure that no child is ever locked away and that diversion programmes are piloted based on understanding. I lived many years on the streets and I know what is needed to prevent children from being labelled 'street kids'." Damian has worked in the film industry for the past two years and he became a Director of the MylifE Project in February 2005.
Freda Darvel lived on the streets for seven years. She has been out of the cycle for two and a half years and is a hero and role model to all of us. Her struggle was captured on film in 2002 in a documentary entitled "Beneath the Stars." She says: "The children and youth on the streets need love. They are living a life that is full of pain, destruction and death and they are paying the price. People make a lot of promises to us all the time, sometimes they come back to fulfil their promises, most of the time we never see them again, so trust is something that is hard to build. I spent time on the streets of Durban working with six-year-old children who have no parents and are now called 'street children'. It hurts me so much to see these little people struggling with no one to support them. "My dream is to sing to the children so that they can feel loved and supported. If I make money from my talent I will make sure that the money is used to support my family and open beautiful houses for my family on the streets around the world." Freda will be releasing her first single in South Africa in 2005. Her voice can be heard on the MylifE commercial and will soon be heard on the MylifE single launching in 2005.
Nicholas Thandeki says: "Individuals and organizations use 'street kids' to get filthy rich whilst the kids stay on the streets or in the justice system. Some of the many organizations working with the children that are funded by government and businesses do not understand the children in their organizations and the children face neglect, rejection and are never 'elected'. The kids resort to gangsterism on the streets and then become a number in the prison gang system. "I am proud to say I have a matric, have worked as a volunteer on Bush Radio and am computer literate. My dream is to be a sound engineer and DJ so that my voice can bring understanding and alternatives to free my brothers and sisters on the streets." Nicholas started a sound engineering course at City Varsity in February 2005.
Thabo King Kafiso Lebakeng says: "I know the people of South Africa are doing their best to make our country a better place and in their efforts it is not always possible to reach communities where children are in trouble. With our leadership we can reach the places that need assistance because of our own experiences and the understanding we bring to the table. There is no time like the present and the stand that our leadership needs to take must be based on integrity and wisdom. We need to replace all the anger with love for our people who are struggling. "I wish to stand in my father's shoes, as I was in awe of him. He was a leader and a nation builder and I will fulfil his dreams because they were the dreams that have been shared by my 'grandfather' Madiba. I dream to sit with Madiba and let him know that as the leaders of the future, we will fulfil his dreams of a country that is proud because it looks after its children. It is in God I trust and know that we will do his work on this earth." Thabo has just completed a three month leadership development course at Chrysalis Academy. He is currently assisting other NGOs working with marginalised children and youth.
Thozamile Christopher Ganjana says: "My greatest achievement is carrying a man who was hit by a car in Claremont to hospital. I have also done woodwork, bricklaying and leatherwork at the Salesians Institute. "Children run away from home because they don't have anything at home and they don't get food. They abuse each other on the streets. The big ones force the small ones to do things they know will get them into hospital or prison. "My dream is to play cricket and teach life skills to the youth and children who are staying in shelters and homes and to assist children to survive." Thozamile completed a film industry loaders course and is working as a trainee on the film sets in Cape Town whilst bridging his education.
Mkhanyisele Leon Kapa says: "I left home for the streets of Claremont after the death of my brother in 1994. My path took me into shelters and children's homes and eventually my mother found me and I was back home. My father died a year later and I ran away again, feeling absolutely empty. "I survived many years in this system; I even managed to get far in my schooling. The poverty that my mother was living in drove me to find a job. I am a father and work as a chef at a city restaurant. I am a rollerblading enthusiast and have played roller hockey. "My dream is to provide a safe and caring home for my son and all the children of the world that are not being loved." Under the mentorship of Tony Elvin, Mkhanyisele travelled to London earlier this year to work in the 15 Restaurant (Jamie Oliver).
Khayalethu Marepula says: "In helping myself off the streets I can now be an example to others. I have done the skills workshops at Salesians Institute and the Chrysalis Academy where I have learnt to take responsibility. The MylifE project has shown me that I have a future and everything to live for. I have taken my understanding to the film industry so that they can see that the children on the streets need help. "The children are the future and I aim to be a role model and friend to the 'street children' and give them love, hope and happiness so that they do not give up. If they know there is love they will survive their struggle. I would love to be a camera operator in the film industry; an industry that has supported me "off" the streets and given me the courage and understanding." Khaya is working as a spark in the film industry after two years as an apprentice. He is also assisting other NGOs working with marginalised youth.
Mpumelelo Michael Mlindazwe says: "I attended the Salesians Institute and learnt metalwork design and woodwork. I am computer literate and have performed with my Kwaito group "Loskops" and recorded my first song "Parlimente". I know there is not a life on the streets and the communities need lots of help so the children don't run away to the streets. I am a musician and I believe that music is an incredible way of getting a positive message to the youth and children. My music gives me the comfort to express myself as an individual and tell my story to make sure that children don't have to land up on the streets." Mpume is working as a trainee spark in the film industry and busy with his first CD (Loskops). Vusumsi Shu Shu says: "I am from the Transkei and understand how children migrate from rural South Africa and land up in a community where they learn to deal with the problems their extended family are facing with poverty. The choice between starvation (physical, mental and emotional) and life, leads them to the street for survival. "I have survived the past 12 years I have spent on the streets and in the justice system. I have played soccer for Western Province and worked at Hotink printers. "My dream is to share my passion for sport with my family on the streets. I see our leadership as a dedicated and talented group of sportsmen, musicians, artists and caregivers that will make an impact on the streets of South Africa and the world." Vusi is working as a grip assistant in the film industry and busy recording his first CD (Loskops).
Andile Appolis says: "I completed grade 10 and the skills training workshops at the Salesians Institute. I completed the "Facing the Future" course, which included teamwork and co-operation, dealing with conflict, taking responsibility, confidence building, community research and entrepreneurship. "Society doesn't understand street life and so they ignore the problem. By ignoring the problem, the people stuck in the system on the streets feel that nobody cares. They hit back by breaking into cars and being destructive without considering the car owner who has to replace his window and belongings. This money is used for drugs. "I have done drama classes and practised Kwaito music and believe that through my talent I can reach the children of our world with positive messages. My dream is to one day open a crèche to look after small children." Andile performed live to 10 000 children at the Dance for Life event and is currently recording with the Loskops. He is also working on a life skills programme to take into the schools.
The programmes that we are currently developing are in the creative fields such as the media, music, restaurant, tourism and environmental industries. These are also growing industries where opportunities for employment are available. The skills training will be done in conjunction with mentors and apprenticeships within the various industries.
Workshops will be run by individuals within the MylifE Project together with outside experts. The young people will be encouraged to share their valuable skills and knowledge with one another reinforcing their position as role models for others.
The life skills programme will comprise: Basic life skills Literacy and numeracy Budgeting and money management Computer literacy Communication, facilitation and counselling skills Driver's license Conflict resolution and mediation Critical thinking and problem solving Social awareness: current affairs, HIV/AIDS, politics, history, human rights Parenting
The skill development and apprenticeship programmes being researched include:
Filmmaking: script development, production, directing, camera work, lighting, gripping, sound, loading, editing.
Music: sound engineering, music technology, stage rigging, voice training, song writing Catering: nutrition, cooking, hosting.
Media: writing, photography, desktop publishing, journalism and radio Tourism: tour guiding, hospitality, hosting.
Life skills: bridging educational and entrepreneurial skills, caregiving and parenting Environment: fire fighters, lifesavers, farmers, mountain guides, gardeners
Our strategy Mentors from each field will be brought in to set up and run the courses and workshops. Networks are being created of people from various industries that have offered their support for the project.
Filmmaking: Following on from the success of a similar project in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (GEM TV), MylifE proposes setting up South Africa's first youth film crew. Our youth leaders have spent the last two years gaining knowledge and experience working with international and local film and documentary production companies. They now have the tools to express their own voices and opinions and share their understanding of the problems faced by "street children."
In consultation with the National Film and Video Foundation, the South African Commercial Producer's Association, the Cape Town Film Commission and other enthusiastic independent organizations, MylifE will build on the experience of the leaders and bring in experts on a per project basis to continue training and mentoring the crew so that they can tell their stories which will in turn act as prevention for other children when disseminated into the rural townships and communities.
Catering: The leaders have identified the need to educate themselves on the values of food and nutrition. MylifE is in discussion with the "15 Restaurant" project with Jamie Oliver. A project run along similar lines in collaboration with the marginalized youth of Cape Town is in the pipeline.
Music: The MylifE team has been working with local and international artists and music producers to make their voices heard. They are currently in studio recording their first CD single under mentorship of Ryan Dalton, Street Level recording, Vibrations Studios and DJ Caverra. City Varsity has opened up opportunities for two of our leadership to complete a sound engineering course by June 2005.
Outcomes: Successful young people who are role models and mentors for other young people. Young people who are aware of opportunities for employment and able to grasp them. Proof that previously disadvantaged individuals are marketable in the workplace and are an untapped work force.
Requirements for the MylifE houses: It is essential that the Leaders are housed together as a unit and that the caregivers have accommodation on the property. The caregivers will be responsible for planning and overseeing the smooth running of the home. They will be responsible for reporting back to the board, on a monthly basis, on the progress in the house. It is necessary to provide the house with transport so that the leaders can get to and from their places of work.
Essential 'ingredients' of the house will be:
- A structured environment that will function with boundaries and consequences.
- Long-term sustainability where the people living in the house will become self- sufficient.
- A stable home that provides love, care and nurturing for the individual.
- The space and opportunity for learning life skills.
- A springboard for new projects.
- A hygienic environment which is completely crime and drug free.
- A place to set goals and purpose.
- A place where young people can develop strong relationships based on love and respect.
Freda Darvel reached the finals of the Coca Cola Pop Stars 2002 which was the catalyst for her leaving the streets. She has since written and recorded her first single "Heart of Care" in collaboration with a Scandinavian music producer, Theo van Rensburgh. Freda has spent three months in Sweden doing school tours to raise awareness of the plight of "street children" in South Africa.
Mpumelelo Mlindazwe, Vusumsi Shu Shu and Andile Appolis formed a Kwaito group, the 'Los Kops' and have written, recorded and produced their first single, "Parlimente'.
"Whatever you say...I am" a 52min documentary which, due entirely to the hands-on participation of the MylifE crew, has the most authentic access to the lives of Cape Town's 'street children' and the root causes of their plight ever seen on film.
"A Boy called Twist" an internationally distributed feature about the Cape 'street children's' reality – the African version of Oliver Twist. Three of the MylifE leaders, Freda Darvel, Vusumsi Shu Shu and Andile Appolis worked as consultants and translators for the 'street child' actors on set.
Andile Appolis is a trainee facilitator with Red Zebra, a UK/SA/USA organization which makes use of music and creativity in corporate and community development. He co-facilitated 10,000 school children for the first ever HIV/AIDS youth dance-athon (www.dance4life.com) in Cape Town in November 2004.
"It's MylifE" the projects first CD single will be launched locally and internationally in 2005, featuring Freda Darvel, Sifiso Jezile, the Loskops and Brown. They recently performed at the Youth Day concert in Johannesburg in front of 60,000 people
"It's MylifE" a music video and behind the scenes for the MylifE Single to be launched in 2005.
In two years 20 young people have come off the streets, out of shelters and/or prison and have been healing, working and developing as role models.
We obtained out NGO status in May 2004 (Section 21 No: 2004/009512/08) MylifE has created strong support networks within the film, music, tourism, catering and NGO sector.
MylifE has facilitated skills development and created employment for the leadership. They are a group of self-respecting individuals who are developing their talents and skills as musicians, film makers and chefs alongside professionals/mentors in these industries. They stand for hope and the possibility of change and are an inspiration to South Africa's youth and children.
MylifE has conducted comparative research with other international projects through the interaction with and understanding of a social worker and her work with the core leaders. MylifE has actively involved the leaders in all levels of its inception. This participative approach will remain an essential element to the project's on-going research and development.
Our immediate funding needs concern the implementation of the programmes: the purchase of accommodation for the youth; the establishment of an office; administrative costs; payment for wilderness programmes and life skills courses.
At present our staff members are working without salaries. They are driven by their passionate belief that the process works. However, we wish to bring the best possible people on board to assist with our programmes. To attract the best, people must be paid for their services.
Office (sponsored by Visual Kitchen on a temporary basis):
Tel: 27 21 488 7100
Fax: 27 21 422 4192
P.O Box 1530