South Africa

My name is Lerato and I’m from Atteridgeville just outside Tswane, Pretoria, in Gauteng. My journey as an activist started back in 2008 when I still in grade 7. In my community we had many cases of sexual assault and when I got an assignment for school to come up with a project to mitigate a social ill, I decided I would like to try to do something about teenage pregnancy because I’d seen that the sexual assault of young girls and young women in the community resulted in teenage pregnancy.

To be honest, it wasn’t an easy journey because I was still an adolescent. People didn’t take me seriously when I tried to talk to my peers or when I’d go into clinics to get information and try to reason with staff, people thought it was just ludicrous for a lack of a better word but I kept going. I started the project and I went into high schools, did talks with people who are old enough to be my brothers and sisters, trying to educate and empower them.

I went into a technical high school that had a debate club and I joined. We talked about getting to zero new HIV infections, we spoke about LGBTI rights, we spoke about issues that affect teenagers and what we can do to make their lives better. We participated in debate tournaments and I won a major competition. The prize included shadowing the Tswane Metro Mayor and from there you could say the rest is history.

My love for advocacy continued to grow and I started going into schools, forming small groups where I would talk to young people about their issues and become a mentor to them. We talked about health and social issues as well as education and I helped them with mathematics and science, advised them on technical studies and how to better themselves, making sure that they got university or college entrance, so they could become artisans or pursue academics. It is very important to me to ensure that young people can realise their dreams, no matter the challenges they face, be it health, socio-economic issues, mental health or safety from violence.

That is what motivates me. Before I turn 35 I’d like to achieve real progress  for young people finding ways for them to work together in all their diversity and to ensure that they don’t give up their power and get exploited. They should be able to use their talents to make a living and build a better life for themselves.