News | 6 Oct 2021
When COVID-19 arrived in South Africa in 2020, NACOSA’s My Journey programme for adolescent girls and young women had to swiftly adapt to continue reaching young women and girls with health messaging and support. And so the My Journey Influencer project was born. Thirty young women between 15 and 24 from the My Journey Programme were recruited and trained in health messaging, digital storytelling and social media content creation with the aim of reaching other young women isolated by COVID restrictions and to raise their voices online.
According to research conducted by UNICEF in 2015, young people seek advice from their friends and peers about sex, family planning and substance abuse. So our Influencers were deployed to inform, engage, inspire and empower their peers with accurate information on sex and sexuality and build a supportive online community. The Influencers came from diverse life experiences – some were in school and further education, there were some young mothers and others were not employed. They came from the three districts where the My Journey programme operates: Klipfontein in the Western Cape, Bojanala in the North West and Tshwane in Gauteng. The Influencers engaged on platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, under the mentorship of social media expert, Tshegofatso Senne (@mbongomuffin), around the hashtag #OurVoicesOnly.
The first group of Influencers were celebrated at a small graduation ceremony in the last week of September.
One of the Influencers who had a real impact was Zilleh Mama’Yentle. “She is an absolute inspiration to other young mothers on the programme,” says Tshegofatso. “Her content is always interesting and her opinions create a conversation that leaves you wanting more. We appreciate how much she opens up about her own struggles and that she doesn’t pretend to be someone she is not just to impress others.”
Nicollin Zinhle (@NicollinZinhle), from Tshwane, loves being an Influencer is because she can share what she knows and learn more about communication within relationships. At the graduation ceremony, Nicollin said: “Being an influencer has been an emotional journey for me, learning about my peers’ experiences, I was able to see how strong women and girls are.” She got to engage with other young women, find out about their lifestyles and hear their stories.
Constance Ngobeni (@ConstanceDineoNgobeni) is described by her mentor as “such a gem!” She said at the graduation, “I was empowered with messages about healthy behaviour, travelling experiences to trainings and bootcamps and lots of adventures.” She added that the experience helped her survive independently and not rely on a boyfriend like other girls in her neighbourhood.
Chante Fourie (@chante.fourie1818) joined the project because she wanted to make change and believed she had the power to do so. Chante become one of the project’s real stars: “Throughout the programme we have seen Chante grow on a daily basis and it shows in her content, she has been in the top influencers every month for majority of the project,” says Tshegofatso.
Phelo Bhomoyi (@PheloBhomoyi) from Cape Town started the project as one of the very shy Influencers: “Being part of the Influencer Programme has been quite an interesting journey, both exciting and nervous at the same time. I learnt a lot, gained a lot of information. At first it was very hard to engage, in creating content and peers with challenges that we face as young girls in our societies.” But Phelo grew in confidence over the project; according to Tshegofatso: “Her love for improving self-esteem issues in her community is commendable as she also tackles the mental health side of things in order to give as much information as possible with every post. Her content is informative and inspirational.”
Another of the Influencers who grew in confidence was Lelethu Layi (@LelaboLayi) who said: “I have always wondered when will I ever take my first flight and guess what, being an Influencer made it happen! Flying to Johannesburg was a highlight of my experience, meeting the other girls and having to bond with them, those are things that cannot be taken away from me. I have been treated like a queen and I have learnt in the programme, that ‘I AM WHO I THINK I AM’. To my fellow young women, thank you for trusting us.”
For Bontle Phirisi (@BontlePhirisi), the project opened doors. She gained courage from her fellow Influencers to go back to school and complete her final exams. “Bontle is great at posting and interacting with her followers,” says her mentor. “Her confidence is growing and she is standing her ground on issues close to her heart.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Keorapetswe Dipudi (@KeaNkopodi) started the project as a young woman “just looking to make a difference in the world”. At the graduation she spoke about the impact the project had on access to services: “I always was drawn to the mobile vans, even when below 15 years. I always spoke to my friends about the services and encouraged them to join the My Journey programme.” She has always been an influencer but she reflected that: “I thought influencing is about lavish lifestyle, until I joined the programme, was empowered and gained confidence to be one.”
The Influencer project is set to continue with a new crop of Influencers being recruited before the end of the year. Look out for their content by searching #OurVoicesOnly and #MyJourneyInfluencers, follow and share. Together, we can raise young women’s voices and empower them to live their best lives!