Content Partner: Activate! Leadership for Public Innovation

I am a 27 year old guy from Johannesburg and my name is Sipho Dennis Phiri. I work as a life-skill facilitator with Oasis South Africa. It is an NGO based in Cosmo City North West of Johannesburg.

Being a young black South African man, nowadays gives me confidence to change the outlook of people in our communities, and how individuals interact with one another. I am a life-skills facilitator because I like seeing young people becoming aware of opportunities and available resources. Another key drive is in my life is Education because I believe that all human beings have the capacity and the right to learn.

I grew up in Grasmere, south of Johannesburg, where I started my schooling and finished it in Diepsloot. We moved to Diepsloot because my mother was looking for a better job. I was still able to complete my Matric in 2004 although we had moved and were living in a shack. We were exposed as a family to the heart of the township and the living standards of people in the shack community in Diepsloot i.e. no running water, electricity or clean sanitation, in addition, sadly I lost my mother in 2005, so my further education had to be put on hold as I had to now provide money for myself.

The conditions I lived under made me think that nothing could ever be positive. I could not see my way out. This also made me angry as they seemed to be no hope at all. When my mother passed on I attempted suicide twice and the second time landed me in hospital. After that I went for counselling and I was able to make productive decisions about my life.

My first job was in the construction industry where I earned less than R40 a day. In 2007 I got a job as a petrol attendant. During that particular job I realised the need for a qualification to better my life and in 2008 I enrolled in a course with Damelin in Journalism and Media Studies. I wanted to become a journalist, as I was motivated to write stories of young people who are making a difference in their communities, especially young people in Diepsloot. I wanted to get rid of stereotypes that people have about Diepsloot being a dangerous place to live and to show them the development that is happening in Diepsloot.

After six months of studying I had to drop out due to financial difficulties since I lost my job at the garage. I started job hunting so that I could get a job to continue with my studies. But with no hope of getting a job I started getting, demotivated and frustrated. I started blaming other people for my situation and most of the time I woul lose my temper.

Early in 2009 I got my Provident Fund money and I used it to start my own small Internet Café as they were no Internet cafés in my area. I had one PC and a printer. I started composing CV’s for people in my neighbourhood and making copies for them. Unfortunately my small business collapsed, because I had to use the money that I generated from the business to support myself and to sustain the business. So I started job hunting again.

A year later an opportunity came along to join a youth programme with Oasis South Africa where I am fulfilling the goals for my life and for my community.

Due to my position with Oasis South Africa I have been able to explore a new community called Cosmo City where I have gained my passion for community transformation. I became an Activator to further my passions and to create a network with young people who are transforming themselves and others.

So far being an Activator I have met new young people who are very passionate about current affairs in South Africa which has influenced me to be more interested as well. Meeting other Activators has enabled me to expand my network. I have met young people like: Nhlanhla Khumalo, a young person who is passionate about education and is making a different in other people’s lives; Tony Mathipa, a young role model passionate about educating people on issues of Human Rights; Nkosinathi, a young man who is currently running his own NGO in KZN.

I also had an opportunity to meet other young people from Limpopo who are making a difference in their lives and in the process uplifting others. I have learnt a lot from my fellow Activators as we challenge one another and in the process come up with ideas of how we can overcome problems that we face in our communities.

I am also now able to socialise with my fellow Activators through different social networks. My experience also has made me more aware of my municipality, what is happening around me, and to think out of the box.

Now as an activator I see myself making productive and progressive steps forward in changing the community that I currently live in. As I take these steps I am also encouraged to start up my own NGO focussing on encouraging and motivating young people in the community. I interact with many people who have various skills but don’t have enough information on how they can use their skills to generate income. I want to help them to attach a sense of vision to their skills and their lives. My other focus will be on the Youth, to provide them with information on how they can access opportunities and resources that are around them. I want to work hand in hand with young people to address issues that they face every day and encourage them to become responsible citizens in the future.


Activate! Leadership for Public Innovation is a national network of young people committed to social transformation. United across race and class, they will develop the perspectives and skills of innovation needed to tackle some of South Africa’s most challenging social issues.
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