14 young leaders ranging in age from 14-20 chose to participate in the first Iziko Labahlali at the Ray-Cam Centre. The group was diverse, made up of young people from around the world. The youngest being 14 recently from Iraq and the oldest turned 20 the second day of the program on August 6th.
Iziko Labahlali means "Hearth of the Community". The program is structured to enable participants of all ages to take a journey through their own lives, using art, paint, words, activities and challenges. We start by creating a picture of how we got to where we each are today and how we arrived at this point. The participants as a group then discovered 'new' things about themselves and other members of their community that they may not have known or paid attention to previously. We talk about 'seeing' people; recognizing the light in each of the people around us and ourselves and creating a pathway to begin, one step at a time, on our journey into our future selves.
On our first day there was a nervous energy in the air as the group slowly turned up one by one to start their journey. The group started to learn about each other all over again. Some of them had known each other for years, even most of their lives, and where surprised at some little things they didn't know. Through our art, activities and sharing the group started to bond and support each other as they talked about triumph's and challenges, joys and pain, that they had each experienced in their short lives to date. When we left for the day the group was excited, happy, and full of energy.
On the second day as everyone raced to see who would be there first, one of the group remarked, " Wow! it is so different today, something has changed..." We learned a lot today, we learned about small steps about our own personal inner strength... We learned how to take big challenges and break them down into smaller challenges we could deal with. Each person experienced the feeling that they are really okay.
As the group explored their collective skills I asked them how they felt about an opportunity to become "Community Change Agents". There was a resounding "Yes!" When asked what they believed that meant; their responses were touching and emotionally charged.
“I want people in Vancouver to see me, us differently”
“I want people to know, we are not bad, we are good people that just want to change what we have and do it ourselves”
“I want people to perceive us differently. I want people to think that if you are from the Downtown Eastside it means you are strong and love your community”
“People don’t have to give us stuff, we want chances to do things for ourselves, to build our community and make it strong. We can and we will!”
“I want to have the opportunities like everyone else, I want to work with children and support them. I want to work in the hospital with children who have serious challenges or who are dying”
“I want to be a police officer so that I can help people too, I want to help my Dad”
“I want to be a paramedic and help my community”
At the end of our three days, each of the young people left the program feeling accomplished and proud. I left feeling sad that I would not see them all the next day and feeling humbled that each was willing to share their life experiences with me. I am grateful that I would be exchanging messages and ideas and thoughts with each of the group over the next six months.
Nine members of the group have agreed to work in and support our “My World in a Garden Sister Walls” initiative to help us create community owned and sustainable food sources both in Vancouver and South Africa.
In November 2011 we will run our second session at the Ray-Cam. The group agreed they would each mentor a new person into the program and support them through the process. I am proud to know each of these young people. They are Good and REAL people who really care about themselves, their families, friends and their community. I am proud to call you family!
Ray-Cam Community Centre
Ray-Cam is a neighbourhood centre for both old and young. It is a place for recreation and social activities, where learned skills can be shared and new skills can be learned. It provides personal and family support services, and offers an out of school, pre-school and day-care program for children. It has a gym, hobby rooms, and club rooms. It has a drop-in lounge where hot coffee is available. It is a place where friends meet.