Gerald Jacobs is the director of Mamelani Projects, a vibrant and well-established organisation which strives to enhance resilience and well-being in communities. They focus on two core programmes: Community Health and Youth Development. Both these programmes aim at building on the strengths of individuals and connecting them with resources and opportunities. This work is participatory and experiential, for example, learning by doing and learning from others’ experiences. Gerald says, “Mamelani is derived from the isiXhosa word ‘masimamelane’ which means ‘we must listen to each other’. We believe that it is through listening that transformation is possible in our community.”

Before making his mark at Mamelani Projects, Gerald had a challenging upbringing that inspired him to do better and strive towards a higher purpose. “Growing up in the Cape Flats, I became particularly curious about the factors that allowed people to thrive despite very tough circumstances. I spent a lot my time dodging bullets, and I had to find ways of steering clear of gangsterism in all its forms. I didn’t think much of how growing up in Lotus River contributed toward the resilience I possess today.” He continues, “When I became an adult and experienced everything from a youth worker to a social worker, my experiences became secondary to any ideas I had about development. My journey at Mamelani Projects has revealed something different. It has been about discovering my value, dusting off the medals that I thought were insignificant and allowing them to shine in ways that allow other people to see their value too. I have been very fortunate to have a community of supportive people who have walked alongside me and provided me with the opportunity to discover the contribution I want to make to this world.”

What are some of the challenges Mamelani Projects face?

Gerald says, “Many young people who have grown up in children’s homes in South Africa are required to leave state care at the age of 18. These young people are expected to become instant adults; ready to stand on their own two feet. At the same time, they must leave the care of the children’s home and make the transition from school to tertiary education or from training to work. These transitions can be overwhelming for learners and can make these young people vulnerable to numerous risks.”

This is where Mamelani Projects come in. They’re challenged by these transitions, helping the youth overcome these moments and ensure they have access to the right support. Their unique Youth Development Programme was created to provide support to these young people and the staff who work with them.” This programme helps young people make a smoother transition towards adulthood.

How do you overcome these challenges?

Mamelani Projects acknowledges these challenges and thus ensures that their approach is mindful of our country’s history and the high levels of inequality in South Africa. “We work with people as they are, building on what they already know and supporting them to find their own solutions to the challenges they face. We strive to be the change we hope to see in communities, and we truly believe that change starts with us. We regularly take time to reflect on ourselves and our programmes to ensure that we are responding to the needs of both the organisation and the people we serve.”

How is Mamelani Projects making a difference in South Africa?

“In our Community Health Programme, Mamelani works with mostly unemployed women, grandmothers and HIV positive patients. We provide safe spaces for people to learn more about their health, explore what steps can be taken to improve their health, be able to make informed choices and take action to improve their own health and the health of their families and communities.”

“In a world of self-help, we remain resolute in our belief to be a part of something greater than ourselves. We encourage our staff to acknowledge both their strengths and those who are supporting them on life’s journey. Nurturing our resilience is more than what we have inside ourselves – it also includes the quality of our relationships.” To learn more about Mamelani Projects, visit: www.mamelani.org.za