Youth Day is coming up on 16 June, and while it may sound like a cliché, young people are our future – literally. So what’s being done to empower youth today?

Much has been written about South Africa’s worryingly high school drop-out rate. 

The high rate of unemployment among young people, while an effect of the recession, is also connected to the level of education of young South Africans.

We’re not doing enough for young people.

Says Lauren Gillis, co-founder of the social enterprise Relate Bracelets, “Most young people who drop out of school do so through no fault of their own – often it is because of social, family and socioeconomic issues, or problems within the education system.”

Youth Day commemorates the 1976 Soweto uprisings, when thousands of brave young people protested against the injustice of the Apartheid education system, in particular the imposition of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction. 

The day honours young people and their right to a good education and a good start to life. 

“But how can we observe such an important day without acknowledging the situation now, in which we have a generation of young people who believe they’re lost and that there is no future for them?” says Gillis.

All is not lost.

Certainly, steps need to be taken by all involved to improve this state of affairs, but in the meantime, what can the millions of young South Africans who haven’t finished school do, to gain skills and a sense of purpose?

Not many people know that there are youth empowerment programmes for young people to reach out to, to help them achieve their career and life goals, says Kevin Chaplin, managing director of The Amy Biehl Foundation.

The Amy Biehl Foundation is a non-profit organisation that works to uplift young people. It was named after a young American student who did a lot of work to make a difference in South Africa in the early 1990s. 

Together with the ANC, Amy Biehl worked on the new constitution and women’s right at the UWC’s Law Centre, and helped to register voters for SA’s first democratic elections.

Amy was killed in an act of political violence in 1993, and four men were convicted of her murder. After five years in prison they were granted amnesty through Amy’s parents and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

Amy’s parents founded the Amy Biehl Foundation in their daughter’s honour, and it runs programmes to empower and develop young people living in vulnerable communities in the Western Cape.

Says Chaplin, “We reach over 2 000 young people, between the ages of 5 and 18, with educational and cultural programmes. We want to provide a place for them to come and gain confidence and skills, rather than hanging around on the street.”

The programmes are having a very positive effect on the youth as well as the communities in which they live.

The Foundation provides educational and cultural activities that offer students healthy alternatives to all the negative influences within their society, unlocks their creative talent and creates future emotionally well rounded individuals, leaders and entrepreneurs for South Africa.

Inspiring young people.

Young people are also being empowered through the social enterprise Relate Bracelets. 

One example is the story of Abongile Ngalo, who came to Cape Town to find work, with no money or opportunities, when she was 18. She moved in with her aunt in Gugulethu and began searching for work; but could only find jobs as a domestic worker. 

She decided to join her aunt at an Ikamva Labantu centre, where some people in their community went to bead bracelets. 

They were making bracelets with Relate, a 100% not-for-profit social enterprise that, through the making and selling of hand-beaded bracelets, uplifts local communities and enables young people to grow in confidence and learn new skills so that, in time, they can move beyond Relate to achieve their personal goals. 

Since then, Relate has helped her through her nursing degree; she’s excelling, and she’s been able to support her family back in the Eastern Cape.

Abongile is just one of the many young people whose lives have been changed through the work of social enterprises and youth empowerment programmes like Relate Bracelets and the Amy Biehl Foundation.

Says Vincent Ntunja, basketball star and Amy Biehl Foundation ambassador, 

“Youth month is a month to recognise sacrifices made by young people of South Africa in the struggle against oppression and Apartheid, especially those who died or were beaten and injured during 1976.

“As an activist, youth leader and most importantly ambassador for Amy Biehl Foundation, it is a great honour to remind my peers that we have a central role to play in making positive changes in our society. 

"What is more important now is what history we will create as the youth of South Africa, and what legacy we will leave for this great country, and that will depend solely on our daily choices.”

The Foundation’s work has also been recognised by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who says it is one NPO that has his heart because of the work it does for women and children.

The Amy Biehl bracelets are available at selected Woolworths stores, and the Sorbet bracelets at Sorbet salons and selected Clicks stores. The Amy Biehl bracelet is also available online at


This article was first published by Women24 on 12 June 2104, click here to read the orginal article.