Jannis Drixler is a 27 year old volunteer from Germany, placed in South Africa for a period of one year by AFS Interculture South Africa; where he has been working with the Nkosi’s Haven. Here he tells us how he learned that change has to be owned by those involved.

When I arrived at Nkosi’s Haven I soon realised that the kids here didn’t really appreciate all the toys and sports equipment that was given to them. They broke most of the stuff within days or even hours. Building wooden soccer poles with them let them appreciate the value of things and their own work.

I was placed in Nkosi’s Haven in Johannesburg; a project taking care of HIV positive mothers and their children. The project is pretty well known in South Africa which is why we get a lot of donations especially in the form of toys and sports equipment. I spend a lot of time playing with the kids and I soon realised that they didn’t really appreciate all the toys and sports equipment that was given to them. Especially the older boys, between the ages of 12 and 18, who would sometimes break three or four soccer balls a day and they broke the new soccer poles the same day they were handed out to them. The manager didn’t know what to do with the kids anymore since banning them from the soccer field would only result in them coming up with other ways of “entertaining” themselves which usually resulted in them breaking something else.

One day, when one of our cottages at the haven was refurbished, I saw these big wooden poles lying around that the workers didn’t seem to need any more. That’s when I came up with the idea to build soccer poles with the boys, since I felt like the boys would not be able to break these poles and maybe they would take better care of them if they built them themselves.

So I organized all the equipment and tools we needed to build the poles; like screws, saws, hammers, drilling machine and so on, and we started building the poles the week after. To my surprise all the boys, even the smallest ones, were willing to help and I was busy finding tasks for every single one of them to make sure that nobody felt left out. Even though it was a bit chaotic and at the end the poles were not as “perfect” as I would have liked them to be; considering that most of the kids had never really used tools like saws and hammers before, I was very happy with what we accomplished and I felt like the kids were happy and proud as well.

It seems like my idea of raising the kids awareness for the value of things has worked. It has been 3 months since we built the poles and they are still standing. Every single one of the kids takes care of them and lectures others if they have the feeling that they are not taking proper care of the poles by climbing on them or the like.

I learned that things or objects you have worked on yourself, and that you have put a lot of effort into, can be way more valuable than things you just buy in some shop. In my opinion it was also an important lesson for the kids; and by letting them be a part of the building process of the poles they understood and learned to appreciate the things they have. I think building the poles themselves gave them a feeling of “this is ours” instead of “this is property of Nkosi’s Haven” which is why they were way more appreciative.

I have already thought of other things I can build with the kids. As soon as I find the proper parts and equipment I will try to start building soap box racers with the kids and will once again try to get as many kids as possible involved in the building process.