On a Thursday afternoon, there are squeals of laughter inside the Workspace at the Hout Bay Harvest Centre. There is a room full of children and, having just finished their breakdancing lesson with the Harvest Youth Project, they are trying out their new moves. One boy spins on his head at a furious pace, while another balances precariously on his hands and swipes his leg around in a continuous circle. There are loud applauds at the end of each move and as warm bowls of soup are handed out, the children settle down to eat before heading home for the day.
This simple activity is a lifeline for many children in the harbour community, both socially and nutritionally, but it is under threat – after 10 years of operation, the Harvest Youth Project may have to close its doors.
The Harvest Youth Project, a registered non-profit organisation, has the primary objective of uplifting youth in the harbour community, which they achieve by providing a variety of classes, activities and support services. Recognising the value of the arts in engaging and communicating with youth, the classes range from music and music production, hip hop and breakdancing, martial arts and a variety of other arts-related programs. They classes take place every day from Monday to Friday, and in addition, they also run a feeding scheme, providing meals for 30 to 50 children every day.
‘It’s a blow to be sharing this news,’ comments Peter Michaels, a trustee of the Harvest Youth Project. ‘Our youth activities are primarily funded by our tourism-related businesses in the Harvest Centre and with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, everyone is struggling. We also haven’t been able to secure any discount on our rental from the Department of Public Works for the lockdown period, so with the loss of income and high monthly operating costs, we just can’t keep going anymore. It’s a huge loss to the community.’
The Harvest Youth Project has occupied the space above the Hout Bay Harbour Market for more than a decade. Initially a rundown set of buildings with little functionality, the trustees invested an enormous amount to fix it up and make the space suitable to empower and train young people, including building a sprung floor for dancing and setting up a computer and music production centre. But those doors are now closed – teachers and trainers have been retrenched and all activities have been moved into a small section of another building, with activities taking place wherever there is space.
‘It’s not ideal but we won’t give up,’ comments Peter. ‘We’re trying to set up a new smaller space but there’s a lot of work needed. We need a lot of support and we’re hoping people will respond positively.’
Despite being retrenched, all seven trainers and coaches have continued with their classes voluntarily, hoping that things will get better again in the future.
‘It’s all about passion,’ comments Chad van Rooyen, a music production trainer.
‘We’re passionate about what we do and we’re trying to help the youth find their own passion through music and the arts. A lot of kids here think that once you’re done with school, life is over – if you’re not working there’s little to live for. We’re trying to show them there’s a different way. There are super talented kids here and they have a choice between two roads in life – we want to make sure they choose the right one.’
The breakdancing teacher, Jeffrey Jonkers, comments that dance teaches discipline and focus, that it equips young people with skills they will use throughout their lives.
‘When I see these kids dance, I see someone trying to create, someone trying to do something above and beyond themselves. These kids are pushed down and they have a lot of darkness in their lives. But here they find a sense of belonging. That’s why what we do is so important – we need to be that extra pillar of hope. That’s what changes lives.’
All the trainers comment that there is a shortage of positive role models within the community – with many children coming from poor and often unstable homes, they simply don’t have the support they need to grow and excel. The trainers say they can’t give up – they have a duty to fulfil and are committed to pushing through the tough times.
There has been one beacon of light. When Love in a Bowl heard that the Harvest Youth Project needed support, they immediately took action, making arrangements for a weekly delivery of fresh, organic vegetables to support their feeding scheme.
‘The support from Love in a Bowl has been a great help,’ says Gaynor Solomon, head cook for the feeding scheme. ‘These children are hungry. We cook four hot meals per week for the children and then once a week we try to give them bread and a treat. There isn’t a drop of food that goes to waste and the children really appreciate these meals – it makes a big difference in their life.’
Gaynor comments that the issue of food security is a real problem. She explains that she started a cooking class with the Harvest Youth Project and was surprised at how many children, particularly boys, arrived for the class. She soon realised that children were attending the class because they got to eat what they cooked. It was then she realised the importance of being able to feed people.
‘Many of the children are just in survival mode and the Harvest Youth Project is safe,’ comments Peter. ‘Here, we create a space where kids can heal from their pain and their circumstances, and reimagine a different life for themselves. I can’t imagine what these kids will do if we have to shut our doors.’
The Harvest Youth Project is making an urgent appeal for support and all help is needed.
As Gaynor remarks, ‘Everyone thinks that in order to make a difference, you have to do something big but that’s not true – we all just need to make a difference to one person and the world would be a different place.’
If you would like to support the Harvest Youth Centre, please contact Peter Michaels on 071-798-2450 or Helena Fagan on 082-784-5054. For further details on the possible closure, please check out the Harvest Youth Centre press release.
Words by Kiara Worth