We Lift as We Rise: Happy Feet Youth Project

Welcome to Langa

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This past January, I was given the opportunity to visit Langa, a township located just outside of Cape Town, South Africa. Langa has a population of over 100,000 people, all of them black, and only about 50% with jobs.

None of my experience with poverty helped to prepare me for the conditions I witnessed in Langa. I saw families of five living in shipping containers no bigger than a small bathroom. I saw hundreds of thousands of people living without even the most basic of necessities. Families used whatever they could find to build shelters for their families, of which the average size was around five people. AIDS and HIV occur even more frequently in Langa with over 2,000 people dying of the disease in 2010 alone.

Children carry the heaviest of the burdens in Langa.

Children carry the heaviest of the burdens in Langa.

In 2001, the recorded population of Langa was around 50,000, but in the past decade, it has swelled to over 100,000 with over 1 in 3 having a stain of HIV/AIDS. The disease in combination with large family sizes and a welfare mentality (cultivated by the payment of R26 or about $3 per month for every child a woman has, from the South African government) has led an overabundance of children (many HIV positive) and a shortage of parents- they have either died from AIDS or are simply unable to care for their children. Those kids without families (of which there are too many to count) are left to the state and must grow up in it’s care until they are 18 and cast back out into bustling streets of Cape Town.

One could write forever on the socioeconomic impact that a homeless population has on its host country, while that is not the focus of this article, rest assured that it is neither easy nor cheap to care for these children, if the state can even afford it at all. Luckily for the children and families of Langa, there is one organization that is fighting to help pull these kids out of the cycle of drugs, prostitution, and alcoholism through DANCE!

Happy Feet Youth Project

Founded in 2007 by Siviwe Mbinda, the Happy Feet Youth Project is slowly chipping away at the torrent of obstacles facing Langa’s children. By teaching the children the Gumboot dance, created by African Miners, Happy Feet creates a fun and safe environment in which to cultivate the young adults Langa desperately needs.

In order to participate in this program, kids must attend school, keep their grades up, and stay out of trouble. Those kids who are successful are not only rewarded later in life for their accomplishment, but they are also mentored, looked after, and fed lunch (a commodity that the vast majority of kids go without on a daily basis).

By setting goals for the kids to meet, Happy Feet is able to groom the boys and girls into responsible and educated adults while teaching them an activity they love. And believe me, they really do love it. Below is a video taken on site in Langa, it makes me smile every single time.

After personally meeting the Happy Feet team, I can say that these men and women are making a real difference in these kids’ lives. Seeing their smiling faces and bubbling energy as they perform is easily one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had, and I urge you to lend your support.

Like them on their Facebook Page.

Follow them on Twitter.

And most importantly: Volunteer or Donate!

2 Comments on “We Lift as We Rise: Happy Feet Youth Project

  1. Good afternoon from Houston, Texas!

    It was great to read your blog post about the Happy Feet Youth Project! It seems like the project is doing some really incredible work. I’m a senior at Rice University, pursuing the Watson fellowship to learn more about the link between exercise and female empowerment. This past August, I was actually in Amman, Jordan, doing a research project on female-only gyms. I am interested in working with the Happy Feet Youth project for ten weeks this upcoming year. Do you have the contact information of Mr. Mbinda or somebody else from the organization? I’d be happy to send more information about the Watson fellowship or my background; hope to hear from you soon!

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