Imagine how many people would love to relocate to the United States? With luck on their side, they could get to see, for example, the fantastic city of New York and some favourite movie stars and musicians.

Well in an unusual twist of events, one American guy has moved to Khayelitsha, Cape Town, where he now owns – a one-room shack!

Jason Woolf is just twenty-one and was born in Boston in the US. He’s presently a third-year student at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualised Study. Yet he now lives in Khayelitsha, which is isiXhosa for ‘new home’. Jason does have strong family ties in South Africa though. His father is from Johannesburg, and his mother lives in the affluent suburb of Clifton, Cape Town. They both emigrated to the US in 1991 due to the political instability of the time, but his mother eventually returned, to Clifton.

Jason is the founder of the Umbiyozo Foundation – umbiyozo means ‘celebration’ in isiXhosa. The Foundation promotes traditional songs and dance amongst youngsters in the township.

“Umbiyozo is my self-designed major subject, focusing on social entrepreneurship and cultural revitalisation. I chose it myself so I can come and live in my country,” says Jason.

Umbiyozo serves as a ‘hut’ where troupes can hide their heads. It provides support services for them: “This includes branding, song and dance training, marketing and organising performance opportunities and platforms for troupes to collaborate with one another.”

Jason works with two assistants: busking specialist Lonwabo Baleni who trained at Chris Hani Arts and Culture School in Khayelitsha, and Anele Xhali who is a professional dancer and teaches the song and dance programme. They all make use of HubSpace Kayelitsha, a shared office space for entrepreneurs. (Its where where two of our previously profiled entrepreneurs, Siyavuya Mlungu and Thembinkosi Matika, operate.)

Jason has eighteen troupes in his stable. He believes that, “Performers have historically been taken advantage of. Adult facilitators would keep the money instead of investing it back into the youths’ development.”

Umbiyozo hopes to turn the situation around. For example, DVDs are sold to help financially maintain the troupes and foundation. “Generally, sales are split equally between Umbiyozo and the troupes… Sales are monitored to ensure accountable spending.”

How did Jason adjust to this radically different, new life? He says his neighbours welcomed him with warm hands and he can now construct a few isiXhosa sentences. Apart from that he has also had to learn some basic practical skills.

“I can now do washing [of clothes] with my hands. I can cook now because I have to. And my neighbours teach me everything there is to know about township life,” he says.

Jason’s lived experience in Khayelitsha has made him very aware of the gap between the rich and the poor, but believes it can be easily closed. “There is not enough understanding between the rich and poor. If they can interact, all the existing stereotypes can be shattered. Then the rich can realise the poor have potential and start to organise funding. Then there will be no more unnecessary protests. And thereafter crime will be reduced.”

Jason believes Umbiyozo is a knobkerrie that can effectively attack many of those problems. “The Umbiyozo Foundation helps to prevent gangsterism, drug use and teen pregnancy, among other social problems,” says the founder. “Umbiyozo team members visit troupes’ practices and raise conversations that create awareness around social issues.”

Jason had also visited South Africa as a tourist and is adamant that Umbiyozo can contribute to the tourism industry. “I see a lot of African history being swept under the rug… I want tourists to experience things that are truly African.”

He continues: “[I want] tourists to meet community-based groups, talk to buskers and learn about the customs and history. You can imagine at Table Mountain [cable way] if they allowed us to busk while tourists are queuing.”

Umbiyozo hopes to extend its ‘celebration’ of culture to other cities. “I don’t think there’s anything quite like Umbiyozo in [the rest of] South Africa yet, so we will try to expand nationally.”

Jason says that their main challenges have been financial and they hope to secure funding soon to keep the project going, because he is going back to the US in June 2015 to finish his studies. He will only return to the country in 2016.

“I think it’s very meaningful for me to come back to the country… And also for me to share my gifts, my privileges,” says Jason. “I had lots of platforms to create everything… I had music in my life and I think it’s meaningful to give to those who didn’t have the opportunity.”

Find out more about the Umbiyozo Foundation on:

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