Despite growing up in a community ravaged by drugs, violence and crime, 20-year-old Lucretia Maarmen did not let circumstances deter her from chasing her dream of travelling overseas.
Maarmen, of Rosemoore in the Western Cape, is one of the 10 volunteers who will take part in an exchange programme between the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) and Service Civique, a French institution responsible for voluntary civic service.
The exchange programme started two years ago and has grown in leaps and bounds.
It allows volunteers from various non- governmental organisations (NGOs), peer motivators and community mobilisers to volunteer in France for six months, while a French group spends six months volunteering at South African NGOs in the Western Cape.
Maarmen lives with her unemployed mother and father, who works as a local bus driver. She said it has always been her dream to travel overseas.
“I’m over the moon to have the opportunity to explore a new country for the first time, especially France where I know now there is so much to learn. I also want to show the French exactly what it means to be a South African,” she said.
After finishing school, Maarmen completed a first aid course, worked as a cashier, volunteered with the Metro Ambulance Service as a first aider and is currently a volunteer counsellor with NGO loveLife.
“My passion is the protection and development of children and I would love to study social work next year so that I can improve conditions for the children in my community,” she added.
NYDA CEO Steven Ngubeni said the participation of young people in these programmes would help develop their skills and open doors for career opportunities.
“We are very proud of all our French exchange volunteers and all the young people that participate in National Youth Service (NYS) programmes nationally throughout the year. NYS opens so many doors for young people to develop skills, travel and uplift their communities.
Cultural exchanges allow for personal growth and a broader perspective on the world for young people,” he added.
The exchange programme is one of the joint ventures between the NYDA and loveLife.
“The French/South Africa Exchange Programme gives young people an opportunity to be global citizens. It marries international dynamics, youth and the developmental context. The youth get a chance to learn and share international perspectives and get excited about gaining foreign language skills,” said Dr Andile Dube, loveLife’s director of youth programmes.
The programme allows young people to explore the world while discovering more about themselves, he added.
“The cherry on top is that these youth are South African ambassadors to the world and represent the world back home.”
The South African volunteers left for France in March. They will return to South Africa in August with their counterparts from France.
* Nawhal Kara-Foster works for the NYDA.