Youths on the move

Despite challenging circumstances, Christelle Arendse helps women and children.

Saturday June 16 is Youth Day, which marks the 1976 student uprising in Soweto during which hundreds of school pupils were killed by police as the children protested against the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction.

Sam Nzima’s image of Hector Pieterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo became iconic of this protest.

Here’s the story of 25-year-old Christelle Arendse:

Christelle, a qualified electrician used to work all over Cape Town. But all this changed four years ago when she and her boyfriend were visiting a friend in Capricorn Park.

They were sitting in the lounge chatting when shots were fired. Christelle said she was tucked into a safe corner of the room and feeling safe until she saw her boyfriend had been hit. As she went over to help him, she was shot.

She ended up having an emergency operation and 58 staples in her abdomen. Her friend was shot in the arm.

Christelle’s recollection of the events is hazy but she believes it was gang-related. And while she has not followed up on the incident with police, it has had a huge impact on her, encouraging her to follow her dream of helping others.

She started as a volunteer at Philisa Abafazi Bethu, an organisation which supports women and children, founded by award-winning community worker Lucinda Evans.

It has premises in Lavender Hill and Wynberg. After Christelle had volunteered there for some time, Lucinda sent her on a youth care programme at the Muizenberg-based Waves for Change, an organisation provides a child-friendly mental health service to at-risk youth, where she qualified in its youth care programme.

It was when she saw a post advertised for job that involved working with orphans and vulnerable children at Westlake United Church Trust (WUCT) that she applied and got the job. In her free time, she works and volunteers for Orphan Care Foundation’s Kids Club.

Two years after starting there, she sent a proposal to WUCT to start a teen support project which she has identified as a need in the community. “As a child, asked what I wanted to be when I’m older, I said a social worker. Now I’m realising that dream by looking after orphans and vulnerable children and counselling on grief and loss. I didn’t have this as a child,” she said.