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Setting A New Course

Learning to be independent is especially difficult for kids who have spent their lives in care. SAYes Mentoring bridges that gap in a way that benefits both mentee and mentor.

Lucinda Dordley & Tiffany Donson

During a break from work and her studies, UKborn Michelle Potter volunteered as a soccer coach to kids living on the streets in Cape Town. Michelle had always been crazy about sport, and was interested in putting her hardwon Football Association (FA) Coaching Certificate to good use. The last thing she expected was for the experience to become an award-winning dissertation – or change her life. Yet it did both.

Michelle came to care deeply about the children she was coaching, but it was when a young man confided that he had no idea how to go about taking the next step in his life that she started to realise there was a bigger problem than the ones she was already seeing: the kids were in care, but when they turned 18 they were legally required to leave the children’s homes. And there was no support thereafter, and nowhere for them to go.

When you’ve lived in an institution for most of your life, you get used to decisions being made for you, which makes the transition into adulthood that much more difficult. The boy who spoke to Michelle didn’t know where to go or who to turn to. His birthday was coming up, and he felt that his only option would be to live on the streets. Sadly, it’s a view grounded in reality: statistics show that by 2020, 9020000 South Africans will be unemployed, and just over half that number will be young people aged between 18 and 25.

Michelle’s dissertation (in which she compared the challenges facing children in care in SA with those of kids in care in the UK) was so impressive that she received the Froebel Guild Award. Shortly after that, in 2008, she moved to Cape Town to co-found SAYes Mentoring, an NGO that focuses on supporting youth as they make the transition from care to independence. SAYes stands for South African Youth Education for Sustainability, and was co-founded with X-Files actress Gillian Anderson.

The NGO is part of a broader social movement – effective altruism – which applies reason and evidence to benefit others. The mentoring that SAYes offers is carefully structured and focused, way beyond the fuzzy, albeit well-intended, ‘just see what you can do to help’.

It recognises social currency as one of the most important, and yet overlooked, benefits of not growing up in an institution. For instance, SAYes partners with businesses and other non-profits to provide opportunities such as job-shadowing and internships for mentees.

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March 2018

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