We went into the safe parks with a very specific goal: To educate the youths about xenophobia and to get them to engage with with this issue in their own communities. However what we found was that, yes, the youths were aware of xenophobia, but they felt that it didn't impact their lives in any significant way. Why would it? They are all South Africans living within marginalised communities that were shaped by the apartheid regime. These communities are packed full of issues that the apartheid government sought to hide from the white minority. These issues are not in any way related to race, but are commonly found alongside extreme poverty, poor infrastructure and sub-standard education. Therefore they were only exacerbated during the apartheid years, and subsequently in the 23 years since the abolition of the apartheid state, as these communities have received little developmental support. It is these issues that the youths have to face on a day to day basis. This left us in a dilemma; we had our own agenda, but we are working with vulnerable children who live in extreme conditions and therefore we could not dictate to them which issues were more important to discuss. We started the story telling process by asking the youths to create comics that touched on major issues that they face within their communities that would also provide some sort of solution, so that we would be able to facilitate a discussion that would centre on how we could work toward solving these issues from the bottom up. Before we tasked them with creating these comics, we of course had discussions with them about Human Rights and xenophobia, in an effort to try and steer their thoughts towards these issues. However when setting the task we were careful to leave the parameters open so that the youths did not in any way feel that we were trying to dictate our agenda to them. The following items are a few examples of what we got back from them.
What we noticed from both groups is that the majority of the comics that we received back were focused on rape, gender inequality and domestic abuse, child abuse and drug abuse. It was also very apparent that many of the youths had used the comics as a means of expressing things that had happened to them personally, or people very close to them. For us, this further reinforced that fact that we had to be careful to not gloss over these issues and make it seem that we felt that xenophobia was more important. Particularly as we could see that this was the first time that many of the youths had been given the opportunity and the space to work through these issues openly and with others. It was therefore evident that this exercise was the start of a trust building process and that the success of our project would rely upon this trust being maintained. We have not included all of the comics due to their varying stages of completion as well as the graphic and sensitive content that some of them contained. However we have selected a range of them so that you can get a broader sense of the issues that came up. Click on "item details" to find out more about each comic.