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Mike Fast recently joined our team as a volunteer staff member, along with his wife. They moved their beautiful family from Canada to serve with us in South Africa, and we are so blessed to have them with us. After his first two weeks’ involvement in our Life Skills training course, Mike shares his perspective:

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As a Canadian fresh across the pond, I’m daily learning that even though I speak the same language as South Africans—English—many words do not mean the same things. “Life skills” is a perfect example of this, as what I understand life skills to be is nothing like what I’ve been a part of the past two weeks. In Canada, I think of life skills as practical tools to help you in life, such as making a budget, or setting goals. Here at Hope Africa, however, life skills is fundamentally different.

The students coming into the Life Skills course are coming from situations I can’t even begin to understand, and therefore the skills that as a Canadian I would see as necessary to getting a job are very different from the skills needed for these students to get jobs. To simply give them some technical training without dealing with their past and what is currently happening in their lives does not lead to any sustainable change. This is because even though they might have new technical skills that can get them a job, their lives are not in a place that has enough stability to maintain that new job.

For example, one of the students from this class shared her story: As a young girl, as far back as she can remember, she was living with her grandmother. They were very poor, so her grandma asked their neighbors for work, and they agreed to hire her. This went well as they now had enough food, but after a short while her grandmother passed away. Thankfully her neighbor decided to take her and her brother in and raise them. However, at about age 10, her neighbor also died.

At the funeral, she met her mother for the first time in her life. Since she had nowhere else to go, her mother took her and her brother to Cape Town. She lived with her mom for a couple of years, but then her mom got a job in Johannesburg. Her mom left her and her brother behind in Cape Town, with the promise of visiting every month and sending money for them. The first month she did come visit and gave her and her brother R600 (less than $100) for the month. However in the 2nd month, she did not visit and only gave R150 ($25). In the 3rd month, she gave nothing. This student then called her mother and asked what was going on. Her mother replied, “I have problems too, you know.” So as a young teen, this girl was left to raise her brother with no money, all while trying to stay in school.

She walked very far each day to go to school, and relied on the generosity of neighbors for food. Often there was not any food. After a few years, she dropped out of school and someone paid for a train ticket for her to travel to find her mother. When she found her in Johannesburg she told her she must come back and be a mom to her and her brother, as she was too young to be a mother and needed to be in school. Her mom came and they started to live together, but her mom quickly got into trouble gambling and owed many people in the community money. She would also often leave for days/weeks at a time and our student would not know where she was or when she was returning. She eventually left completely again.

Today, this student wonders if her father even knows she is alive. She dreams every day that he will come and hold her hand and walk with her in life. Her mom is no longer in her life at all.

She closed her sharing time by saying that she believes what God says, that He will not give you a burden beyond what you can carry. I could not believe her conclusion to the story. After all she has been through, and the unbelievable burden she has been forced to carry, she trusts God with her life. What a challenge to me to trust God with the challenges in my life!

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It is our joy to walk alongside these amazing young leaders on a journey of transformation from the inside out. They have so much courage, strength, and resolve, and we learn from them daily.

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