Nineteen-year-old Vincent is set to complete twelfth grade in a few months. Reflecting back on his time at school, he credits UNITE for much of the person he is today.
The attraction to UNITE
UNITE, Scalabrini’s youth program, explores issues of identity, integration and diversity with young people. Working collaboratively from within the South African secondary education system, UNITE provides a unique extra-curricular curriculum that promotes activism and critical thought.
Vincent first learnt about UNITE from a school announcement. “I thought I would check it out as it sounded interesting. The facilitator explained that the programme would help you to become the best version of yourself. What attracted me was that the main focus of the programme was unity, diversity, identity. I thought this program can build a character in me that I will need forever.” Vincent signed up immediately. Three years later, he continues to be an active member of UNITE’s Inter Club Council (ICC).
Each school has a UNITE Club which is led by peer elected ICC members. ICC members attend themed workshops at the Scalabrini Centre in preparation to lead discussions at their schools UNITE Club.
Challenging perspectives on LGBTIQ
UNITE has exposed Vincent to topics that have challenged his perspectives. One tangible change is his attitude towards LGBTIQ issues. “I used to see people in the LGBTIQ category as people who were inhumane or beasts. I was telling myself that you have to live life a certain way; in the way you are expected to live. The discussions we had in UNITE made me question my perspective and challenged my way of thinking. It made me more accepting of how others live. I no longer judge a person by how they feel, what they believe in or on their walk in life. Instead, I now look at them for the person they are. This would have never happened without this program. It has been absolutely life changing”.
Emotional support and safe spaces
UNITE is not only about developing perspectives; it crafts a unique, safe and intimate space for the participants. “I’ve never felt as free as I do at UNITE. It’s an very safe environment,” Vincent describes. He recalls a reflection session held at a UNITE camp in 2016 and the emotion that filled the room as people started to share past experiences. “They were in tears. This is not just a program that builds and develops us; it also counsels us and supports us.”
“They were in tears. This is not just a program that builds and develops us; it also counsels us and supports us.”
Vincent’s experience with UNITE changed his mind set significantly. Perhaps more importantly, it is youth like Vincent who will invoke long term change in attitudes towards others in South Africa. Indeed, this fits in with UNITE’s wider goal: to work towards a society that is inclusive and accepting of others regardless of their race, nationality, religion, gender or sexuality.