Towards The World: South African-German exchange strengthens HIV and AIDS youth leadership

Jabulani with snowman

The first thing Jabulani Nzimande did on arriving in Dresden was buy seven pairs of socks to keep his frozen feet warm. It was January 2013 and the first time he’d ever seen snow, and his very first visit to Europe.

“The first thing I wanted to see was the snow, because in SA we don’t have snow! It was very cold because I had no socks – I was wearing only sneakers without socks. So after leaving the airport I had to buy 7 pairs of socks just to keep warm. I was freezing, but after 2 days I really enjoyed the snow, I really enjoyed the place.”

The first thing Jabulani Nzimande did on arriving in Dresden was buy seven pairs of socks to keep his frozen feet warm. It was January 2013 and the first time he’d ever seen snow, and his very first visit to Europe.

“The first thing I wanted to see was the snow, because in SA we don’t have snow! It was very cold because I had no socks – I was wearing only sneakers without socks. So after leaving the airport I had to buy 7 pairs of socks just to keep warm. I was freezing, but after 2 days I really enjoyed the snow, I really enjoyed the place.”

Jabulani’s name means “be happy” in Zulu and, true to his name and despite the extreme cold, he was more than happy to spend six months in Dresden as one of six young South Africans (four young women and two young men) selected for the first Europawärts – Towards Europe - exchange programme initiated by the South African Youth NGO loveLife, which focuses on HIV prevention. They stayed with German families and worked with schools and youth groups in the city, both learning about the German way of doing things and bringing their own South African perspective to issues such as HIV and AIDS.

To Dresden with loveLife

All six of the young exchange students arriving in Dresden were volunteers from loveLife, a Johannesburg-based non-governmental organisation working on HIV prevention amongst young people. Founded 15 years ago to address issues of sex, sexuality and relationships specifically amongst young people in South Africa, it is now the largest organisation of its kind in South Africa, and is funded by the public and private sectors and international donors such as the German government. Over half of new infections occur in young people, so loveLife tries to addresses specific drivers of risk using a number of unique and innovative strategies, including a call centre helpline which receives 50,000 calls a month, and the very successful groundBREAKER scheme.

Innovative groundBREAKERS show young people the way

loveLife’s innovative groundBREAKER scheme recruits unemployed 18- to 25-year olds such as Jabu into a year-long leadership development programme that in turn serves as a feeder programme for further leadership programmes. After their year-long training and personal development courses, groundBREAKERS go on to cascade and implement programmes designed by loveLife in thousands of schools around the country. 

“GroundBREAKERS have become the core of the loveLife brand,” says Scott Burnett, loveLife’s Senior Executive manager for strategy.research and development. “Our entire approach to our work in South Africa is around developing youth leadership and unlocking the power of young people, and that’s where our international exchange programme has also come from. It has come from a very principled belief in the power of youth leadership to solve complex social challenges in environments such as South Africa.”

The Europawärts exchange programme sent six carefully selected groundBREAKERS to Dresden. The exchange was funded by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and co-ordinated by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) as part of the Multi-sector HIV Prevention (MHIVP) programme in South Africa. In addition to access to biomedical interventions for HIV prevention such as HIV testing and counselling, condoms or medical male circumcision, the programme believes that young people need to be empowered to develop their personalities and become stronger and more resilient, so that they can also be self-determined in their sexual lives. groundBREAKERS serve as role models and it seemed like a logical progression of this national programme to go international says Scott. “We really wanted them to have that global perspective on social problems around the world.”

Listen to an audio clip: Jabulani Nzimande describes arriving in Germany

The Europawärts project was inspired by the German government’s previous Weltwärts – Towards the World - initiative, also funded by BMZ in which young Germans were able to live and work in countries such as South Africa. After going through a rigorous selection process six young South Africans were given the opportunity to live and work in Germany for six months, experiencing a different culture and approach to youth development and HIV prevention and return as agents of change for their communities. “My motivation to engage in this youth exchange was the observation how much German Weltwärts volunteers developed and changed their social perspectives during their year living and working in South Africa,” says Bernd Appelt, head of GIZ’s multisectoral HIV and HIV prevention programme in South Africa. “I thought that this is what South Africa needs on a large scale – young people with a vision of a different society – without crime and social oppression, where young people are supported to develop their skills and fulfil their aspirations – including a self-determined sex life.”

All of the selected participants came from townships, and many had  challenging backgrounds,” says Cornelia Jager, the GIZ development adviser with loveLife, who co-ordinated all the logistics of the exchange with Dresden, and supported the participants throughout the exchange. After the selection process, the participants were given an intenstive language and cultural-orientation course at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg before leaving for Germany. Jabu says he found learning and speaking German difficult at the beginning, but as time went on he grew to love the language as much as his warm socks.

During his six months in Dresden he worked in a kindergarten and youth centre, and he and the other exhange participants - soon became well-known in Dresden and received a lot of requests to visit schools and youth organisations. Cornelia Jager says in all they visited 70 schools and talked to approximately 1,000 children.

“When I was in Germany I was inspired by the way young people live their lives and the way young people are motivated,” says Jabu. “Young South Africans no longer have role models. Their role models are actually into the wrong things – drugs and crime. So if everyone is focusing on drugs and crime, where would our young people get their role models?  …When I came back from Germany my mind was changed because of what I saw in Germany, how young people live their lives and that’s what I wanted to implement – to create young people to be powerful, and young people who would actually stand for their community.”

Meet the six young Europawärts volunteers:

Claudia Rifilwe MosogeClaudia Rifilwe Mosoge (20)

From: Parys, Free State

Claudia is a trained paramedic and works at the Thabang Society Clinic in Parys. She is also a long-time presenter at a local radio station, where she focuses on youth programmes.

She spent her first three months in Dresden at the Freie Alternative Schule and the next three months at the Network of Social Pedagogical Projects, where she designed course and project modules on HIV and AIDS.


Sibusiso-Andries-NtlatlengSibusiso Andries Ntlatleng (27)

From: Bronkhorstspruit, Gauteng

Sibusiso worked as a groundBREAKER for loveLife for more than three years and is currently working as a volunteer in the HIV and AIDS Programme for the City of Tshwane.

He worked as a counsellor at AIDS AID in Dresden for six months and also supported the development and implementation of information and outreach programmes.


 Kedibone Julia SegonoteKedibone Julia Segonote (20)

From: Vaal in Palm Springs, Gauteng

Kedibone has been a groundBREAKER for loveLife, where she also helped with events planning, community mobilisation programmes and educational training.

In Germany she worked at the independent Montessori School in Dresden for six months and supported the implementation of a project or workshop on HIV and AIDS for senior classes.


Victoria Boshoga KoketsoVictoria Boshoga Koketso (24)

From: Pretoria, Gauteng

Victoria studied communication and international relations at Tshwane University of Technology and worked as an intern at the Tshwane Leadership Foundation.

During her six months in Dresden, Victoria worked at the Langebrück Beach Camp where she helped facilitate sports activities and engaged with the kids on issues like HIV and AIDS. She also assisted with the camp’s administration and organisation.


Preciuos Samukelisiwe NtombelaPrecious Samukelisiwe Ntombela (22)

From: Volksrust, Mpumalanga

Precious works in the loveLife call centre in Soweto, where she has gained experience in conflict and crisis counselling techniques. Precious also used to be a groundBREAKER.

During her time in Dresden she assisted the Protestant School in Coswig with English lessons and an AIDS projects for three months, where she worked at the Langebrück Beach Camp.


Jabulani NzimandeJabulani Nzimande (22)

From: Soweto, Gauteng

Jabulani works for loveLife as a groundBREAKER at the Kliptown Youth Centre in Soweto. He is also creating his own company, focusing on arts and culture events for young people.

In Dresden he worked at Malwina, an alternative social project, where he supported institutions for kids and youths with the development and implementation of educational and recreational programmes with an emphasis on HIV and AIDS.


A two-way exchange of ideas

The exchange programme is meant to be a genuine two-way process, beneficial to both Germany and South Africa, with the participants bringing their own experiences and perspectives as young people growing up in post-apartheidSouth Africa and their special expertise on HIV and AIDS. During their time in Dresden they also learned from German society how it addresses the needs and wants of the younger generation.

As well as blogging about their experiences, the participants’ time in Germany was documented by a film crew, and the film was first shown at this year’s Zanzibar International Film Festival.  The aim of the documentary is to inspire other potential volunteers and volunteer organisations to participate and grow this great initiative, and this was certainly the effect it had in Zanzibar, where it sparked .

interesting discussions about HIV and loveLife’s approach to implementing behaviour change programmes in schools. Robert Manondolo, Ziff’s Co-ordinator for Youth and Children, said that it was very important to screen the documentary at the festival to motivate young leaders in Tanzania and Zanzibar and to expose them to other cultures. Future screenings of the film are planned in Germany and elsewhere. 

See a trailer to the documentary film about the exchange programme:

Coming home: dreaming big

Before he left for Germany, Jabu’s dream was to start a successful events company, but since returning to South Africa last August, he has set up an orgnisation working in the townships called Each One Teach One, which focuses on cultural programmes, educational activities and developing young people’s talents. He also organises weekly sessions with young people to talk about issues such as HIV and AIDS, teenage pregnancy, alcohol abuse and drugs.  

Cornelia Jager says the exchange has made a huge difference to Jabu and the other groundBREAKERS. “It was amazing when they came back…Jabulani’s manager said he was much more reliable, responsible and much more on time!”  

Scott Burnett also believes that the exchange has given Jabu and the others the confidence to dream bigger: “It changes the way that you view yourself in the world.  What the exchange has given them is a new way of seeing the world and a new way of seeing their own potential impact on that world.”

Listen to an audio clip: loveLife’s Scott Burnett says leadership development is key to the exchange programme

BMZ’s new Africa policy encourages exchanges 

Jabu is thrilled that he and Sibu have been invited back to Berlin in September to talk about their Europawärts exchange experiences at the conference on German development cooperation with Africa, Africa – continent of opportunities, a partnership for change. He’s looking forward to being reunited with some of the many friends he made in Dresden, and dreams of going to university in Germany in the future.  

“From our point of view, both German and South African participants benefited a lot from the exchange, “ says Nicola Wertz, BMZ’s First Secretary for Economic Cooperation and Development at the German Embassy in Pretoria. “The six South African volunteers were able to gather valuable experiences during their stay in Germany…and they learned a lot. They were, for example, able to question cultural values and social norms that increase the risk of HIV infections - such as gender stereotypes - and learned a lot about the German approach towards comprehensive sexual education and HIV prevention in schools. They are now able to make use of the lessons learned in their work within loveLife and within their own community projects.” The German families who  hosted the six South Africans and the German pupils who met them also benefited from this intercultural exchange, she says. “They were taught about the consequences of HIV and were able openly to discuss the issue. The exchange contributed to an open debate on the issues and hopefully also a reduction in stigma in Germany.” 

loveLife hopes more and regular youth exchanges with Germany can take place in the future, as part of BMZ’s new Africa policy, which encourages exchanges and twinning arrangements between schools, collges and other organsations. In 2013, BMZ established a South-North component of the Weltwärts volunteer Programme. Young people from partner countries within the age group 18-28 who are interested in intercultural exchange and who are willing to work in the civil society sector can apply for volunteer services in Germany. 

loveLife itself has already established new exchange programmes with  France, Netherlands, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. Scott Burnett believes the German government’s overall investment in the groundBREAKER scheme and the Euro 50,000 it cost for the Europawärts exchange programme brings high returns because good leadership influences entire communities, not just now but sustainably into the future. His hope is that South Africa’s loveLife and groundBREAKER programmes will serve as the seeds for not just Jabu and the other participants’ personal development – and Jabu’s growing sock collection -  but for future international programming and for other exchange programmes around the world.

Other useful links:

Evaluation of “Europawärts” (21 pp. 1.0 MB)
by Tim Grosse – August 2013
Link to exchange participants’ blogs from Germany:

By Ruth Evans

Listen to an audio clip: Scott Burnett says investing in young leaders has huge impact

BMZ glossary

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