Township Youth Discuss Taking Care of Our Common Home

Every year during the month of June, South Africans celebrate what has come to be known as the Youth Month. It is a month during which the spotlight is turned on the young people in commemoration of the Youth of 1976 who on June 16th 1976, courageously protested against the apartheid government’s policy on the education of Black children. The Youth and Young Adults of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Nyanga, Cape Town, in collaboration with the Jesuit Social Apostolate, hosted on the 17th of June, a workshop on the theme “Young People, It’s time to take care of our common Home.”

On that cold Saturday following the Cape Storms that had ravaged some parts of Cape Town and the fires that ruined beautiful parts of the Western Cape, the young people of Nyanga, Gugulethu and Emfuleni came together to discuss issues pertaining to our common home. Coming from the three poor communities of Cape Town that are faced with all kinds of socio-economic problems mainly stemming from poverty, these young people coincidentally met on World Day to Combat Desertification to celebrate the second anniversary of the papal encyclical Laudato Si’.

Given that many of the young people in our townships do not fully understand the urgency of the need to improve our relationship with the environment and that many of them do not even know what Laudato Si’ is about, they decided as part of their Youth Month celebrations that they should have a workshop on this important papal encyclical. The workshop was conducted by Allen Ottaro of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA) assisted by Br. Ngonizashe Edward SJ.  The combined experience and knowledge of both Allen, who is the founding director of CYNESA, based in Nairobi, and Ngoni who is doing his masters degree on environmental studies at the University of Cape Town was an invaluable source of knowledge for the young people who participated in this workshop.

In their reflections, the participants expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to be informed and helped to understand Laudato Si’.  Some of the participants highlighted the urgent need to improve our relationship with the environment and for the young people to realize that technological and material advancement is not necessarily good for the environment. It has partly if not largely ruined our common home. A point articulated by Itumeleng Monatsi from Nyanga: “…the most important thing I have learnt is that as much as we think we are trying to improve the world to be better or to be advanced in terms of technology and other advanced materials we are ruining/ destroying the world.”

Zandile Mbombo, a participant from Emfuleni underlined the negative impact of our relationship with the environment on our township economy and how it can be at the same time a security concern:  “…the reality of these environmental issues have now come to hit so close to home. For instance the Western Cape area has been experiencing a severe drought for the past year or so, due to climate change issues; the province that was once known for its ‘wet-winter’ seasons, is left with approximately 60 days of drinkable water supply. People in our townships and informal settlements are losing means of income due to high-water restrictions, these current issues can easily cascade into heightened levels of crime in these impoverished black areas.”

What was significant about this workshop was that all the young people who attended were in agreement with the need to change our attitudes toward the environment, not only for our good but for that of our posterity as well. As Khanyi Mbude put it: “The most important thing that I learned from the workshop was that our common home truly needs everyone’s help, no matter how small, in order to make sure we live in a sustainable environment for ourselves as well as for the future generation.” They each made a commitment to make sure that they spread the news in their parishes and communities.

Listening to all the other reactions at the end of the workshop, one realized that if young people and parishes are not involved in raising awareness of the critical need for all us to change our attitudes and behavior toward the environment, Mother Nature will give us a hard slap – to use Pope Francis’ analogy- and we will never know what hit us!