Arming our youth with information is key to fighting issues such as substance abuse and crime. Aga Sechaba Community Projects, a non-profit organisation in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, seeks to educate people about the all too real dangers of substance use and abuse as well as crime, and puts a particular focus on the youth of the area.
Aga Sechaba, which means “building the nation” in Sotho, was established in 2008 and was registered with the Department of Social Development in 2010. Lehlohonolo Letsoalo, the founding member and chairperson, says: “The organisation’s main objective is to provide information, education, skills transfer and job creation opportunities for unemployed youth. This is because I know too well of the challenges that youth from townships face when trying improve their standards of living.”
Another one of the aims of Aga Sechaba is to ensure that people in the communities in which it operates lead healthy and productive lives free of the negative influences that are rife in townships such as Atteridgeville. It also teaches youngsters how to deal with the many challenges that life may throw at them.
It has developed an ex-convict rehabilitation programme that it intends to use to teach ex-convicts skills so that they can earn a living. The thinking is that this will stop them from being forced to return to lives of crime and possible incarceration. The facilitators encourage interactions between the youth that benefit from their work and the ex-convicts on their programme. Given that the ex-convicts have already suffered the consequences of their choices, the organisation believes that they are best equipped to teach the youth about the dangers of crime, and substance use and abuse.
Letsoalo’s own life story is remarkable and is one from which both unemployed youth and ex-convicts alike can draw inspiration. He explains that he was exposed to drugs at a very young age and attended seven primary schools. He was expelled from all the high schools he attended until he dropped out of school in Grade 8. He was arrested more than 13 times in cities across the country and sold drugs at a number of upmarket clubs around Gauteng. He went on to get arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport after attempting to smuggle narcotics into the country and was sentenced to two years in jail.
When he was released, he decided to go down a different path and went about turning his life around. He established a closed corporation that distributed snacks and sweets to street vendors and spaza shops. His business also provided catering and events management for small to medium events. Soon thereafter, Letsoalo registered as an active member of the community’s Local Drug Action Committee.
He became the managing director of Letsohlo Communication and Stationery suppliers before founding Aga Sechaba Community Projects. He also had a stint in the entertainment industry, producing DJ Bakstina’s Time Waits for No Man Vol 1 in 2001, among other albums.
His story has encouraged a number of the youths who have come through the doors of the organisation to turn around their lives, and not turn to crime, drugs and alcohol.
Aga Sechaba’s youth project includes an entrepreneurship programme that has helped five rehabilitated youths start their own small businesses and another five register for New Venture Creation NQF entrepreneurship learnerships under the Services Sector Education and Training Authority.
Its soccer team, Aga Sechaba Ambassadors, is part of a larger ex-convict after-care and rehabilitation programme that helps ex-convicts pursue their passion for the sport and impart some of their sporting knowledge. They are also able to teach some life lessons they have learned to the young players that they coach.
In 2009, Letsoalo created Araba Sechaba, which means “answer the nation”, a small construction and general maintenance company. He says: “Its only objective is to support the Aga Sechaba Community Projects; it is the answer to the organisation’s need for funding.”
Though Letsoalo has taken steps to ensure the longevity of Aga Sechaba Community Projects, he admits that there is still room to grow and expand the reach and influence of the organisation and hopes that with the help of caring South Africans such as himself, he and his colleagues can one day achieve this goal.