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Techno-hub gives youth hope
30 October 2009

DJ Switch visits the Computer Clubhouse in Bellavista

A Computer Clubhouse in Bellavista is offering often hopeless youngsters a way off the streets and on to a positive career curve.

BELLAVISTA, like many of Joburg's old suburbs, is in a state of decay, with many of its residents living without adequate socio-economic amenities.

Bellavista, sandwiched between Booysens and the southern escarpments of Joburg's mine dumps
Bellavista, sandwiched between Booysens and the southern escarpments of Joburg's mine dumps
Sandwiched between the southern escarpments of the mine dumps and Booysens, the underdeveloped and almost squalid suburb is characterised by high levels of unemployment, decrepit tenements and rundown infrastructure.

It is home to a diversity of people, all living together communally. There is an assortment of languages, cultures and heritage. It also holds the City's largest rental housing estate, comprising about 792 units. It was built in the late 1970s and early 1980s to house poor whites, including single mothers who were in need of social support.

Most of its teenagers today are high school dropouts because of early pregnancy or poor academic performance, and the hope of a safe and secure neighbourhood with decent houses and adequate infrastructure is still a blurred reality for many Bellavista residents.

Negative peer pressure is also prevalent, exacerbating the battery of social ills already affecting the suburb, notes Lucky Mabaso, who hopes to renew the hope of many a young person living in the area through teaching them about technology and positive living, and how the two can have a constructive effect on their lives.

In the long run, he hopes to uplift youngsters from the grinds of poverty and despair.

Computer Clubhouse
Mabaso is the operations manager of a technology-hub called Computer Clubhouse, established in the area by the City of Johannesburg. It provides free access to computer literacy, helping youngsters to sharpen their computer skills. Tuition includes composing music, designing websites and games, graphic design and deejaying. The hub opened in November 2008, with most of its users ranging in age from nine to 18.

There is an urgent need to uplift the Bellavista community socially, physically, and economically, he says. "I would rate the standard of living in this community as below par, because issues of unemployment and hopelessness are still prevalent."

Investing in the future
Investing in the future
Many youngsters from Bellavista don't have much hope, much less opportunity, and after doing matric, their lives are thrown into dismay. "Most of them don't have anywhere to go because they think programmes such as black economic empowerment don't apply to them," he explains.

Crime is another social ill. Like many low-income suburbs, Bellavista's crime rate is on the upsurge, driven by poverty and hopelessness. Many youngsters spend their time hanging out on street corners, loitering with little intent; many find some respite in drugs and alcohol.

"Crime is a big problem in this community. A lot of these kids start young, and at the age of 15 and 16 they are already in jail. There are two kids who I know personally who have been arrested for housebreaking and robbery," he explains.

When the City established the techno-hub - an addition to three similar initiatives already operating in Orange Farm, Soweto and Randburg - the aim was to invest. "This programme is a City investment which aims to enable young people to use technology to rediscover themselves. This technology is providing a bigger career and college growth for them ... When we are done with them, they will be exposed to more, different career [opportunities]."

Computer Clubhouse operates under the City's directorate of human development, a unit of the department of community development. Here, young people can experience "for themselves what it is like to be an architect, engineer, composer, artist, journalist, scientific researcher and computer programmer", Mabaso says.

Lucky Mabaso is the operations manager of the technology-hub
Lucky Mabaso is the operations manager of the technology-hub
Through such interventions, the department aims to enhance the quality of early childhood development, promote the inclusion and development of youths so that they are able to conquer socio-economic obstacles, and increase the range of youth programmes, activities and projects around the city.

He notes that the facility is a "positive hang-out spot" for young people and it helps them to interact "with adult mentors in the usage of technological tools and lay a foundation for their future paths". Some 180 youngsters are officially registered at the centre.

For Jamal Masonte, a taciturn 13-year-old Grade 7 learner, the techno-hub is a beacon of hope, signalling many positive things to come.  "I love computers and soccer and each day I knock off school I come running here, and when they close down we play soccer with my friends. But it is always sad when they have to close," he explains.

Jamal would love for the hub to operate on weekends, because he often runs out of things to do. "I haven't thought about what I want to be when I am fully grown, but I think what I am learning here will help me end up far in life. I wish they would open on weekends; that would be cool."

Role Model Hour
In a bid to boost optimism in suburb's youth, Computer Clubhouse hosted its inaugural Role Model Hour on Thursday, 28 October, with Morgan van Staden - aka DJ Switch - sharing his personal experiences of success.

Although not all members turned up, a horde of schoolchildren gathered to listen to what the hip-hop deejay, television presenter, break dancer, graphic designer and gadget freak had to say. "Anyone can be or achieve anything; it is all a matter of choice. But if you choose to do something positive you can be successful because there is a place for everyone. You can also choose to be a criminal," said Switch.

The day comprised both light and sombre moments and the children were able to ask questions of the special guest. "Have you ever been bullied?" quizzed one. "Education is very important, okay. I wasn't at school for friends, so the only thing you can do when people bully you is to tell them to leave you alone," he answered. "If they continue, tell the teachers or your parents and they will sort [the bully] out."

If you choose to do something positive you can be successful, DJ Switch tells the club members
If you choose to do something positive you can be successful, DJ Switch tells the club members
A youngster said: "But my teacher uses a stick in class." In answer, Switch, who is also a popular presenter on YoTV's Wild Room, said: "Well then, tell them they are not allowed to anymore."

Another wanted to know if he sang. "I was in school and I tried out the choir; I tried out everything because I wanted to do stuff. But now I am not a singer, I'm a deejay. This is a passion. You must never feel ashamed because you go to school for a reason, and that is to learn," he responded with his face wearing a wide smile.

"I want you to remember this: that in this world, in our daily lifestyle we all need to progress on our own. If you want to be a soccer player, you go for it; if you want to be the next big deejay, go for it. It's all about you. If you friends don't like it, don't worry about them, just carry on dreaming because that is your passion," he advised.

Mabaso says the centre has proposed running a role model hour each quarter, but it still needs to get the nod from the mother department. The initiative is "great in that it aims to showcase the successes of individuals, teach kids about new opportunities and ways to deepen their experience in technology, build skills and keep up with new life challenges, all in the name of fun".

He explains: "Ultimately, this is a City investment to show these young people that they are smart and they can do things that will help them lead positive lives. In the long run, the City is creating a child who won't be hopeless in his own community; the City is creating a new person who will venture into business and new opportunities once he has discovered himself."

Most youngsters enrolled at and benefiting from the Computer Clubhouse learning programme come from underprivileged households and "are exposed to all sorts of social ills", Mabaso says.

Members of the club get to share their experiences with DJ Switch
Members of the club get to share their experiences with DJ Switch
It is, he believes, through social interaction between vulnerable young people and successful role models that their lives can be reshaped and motivated, and that they can have positive energies that influence character and career development.

"This is what we are looking into as a future development: they must start now by playing with computers, music, creating websites or portals [so] in the long-run, these kids will be techno savvy, and they will fully understand how much technology affects their lives and how to take advantage of it."

If the City continues to run such programmes, communities can be more developed and civic pride can be enhanced. "Children need to know that learning is something that they will live with their whole lives. We will continue providing social support to cater for the mental, artistic and cultural needs of young people."

On an average day, Mabaso notes, the hub tutors about 40 schoolchildren, ranging in age from 10 to 15. "We are still struggling to attract the older youths because they are more attracted to social ills in this area."

The centre opens at 2pm on weekdays and closes at 5pm.

Bradwin "Bino" Theron is a buoyant 12-year-old from Parks Senior Primary School, and likes visiting the centre regularly. Playing with his fingers, and rubbing the back of his head, he explains his experience: "I come here every day to learn more. I think everything about this place is interesting and cool because you learn new things everyday. They teach us deejaying, software use and development."

He hopes that what he is learning at the techno-hub will help him become a deejay and graphic designer. "I like to use computers and design stuff," he explains.

Because the first Role Model Hour was successful, Mabaso says the next one will be a collaboration between all the City's computer centres. "We are hoping to have another one before December; this time we would like to involve other centres, including Randburg, Orange Farm and Soweto."

Celine Petersen is an 11-year-old enrolled at Foorbrand Primary School. She is in Grade 5 and visits the centre daily to play computer games. It has become her new pastime; "Before the centre was established I would play with my friends and do nothing," she says.

She aspires to work with computers and help people when she is an adult. "When I grow up I want to study and work with computers and stuff. I have learned how to help other children when they need my help with computers.

The City of Joburg is serious about youth development. It has instigated a variety of youth development programmes, including the Student Council and the Entrepreneurship Implementation Strategy Framework among others, all geared at ensuring that young people are developed and nurtured to their full potential and, in the end,  fostering civic pride from a young age.

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Last Updated on 17 November 2009