About the Author: Sharon Hudson-Dean serves as the press attache at U.S. Embassy Pretoria.
South Africa is all about young people. Close to 55 percent of South Africa's population is below the age of 25. This country is hip, creative and cool. Twitter is big, Facebook is bigger, and mobile phone technology is massive. South Africans commit a substantial amount of their monthly income, small though it may be, to their mobile phones. They access the Internet primarily through cell phones and are crazy into texting. New music moves around quickly from radio to ringtone and links the cool rich urban kid to the struggling township student. But there is a long way to go to open up other equal opportunities for these different groups of kids. And it is critically important that those doors start opening now, something that the current South African government is keenly aware of and working on.
These young people are hungry for opportunities, education, and skills. The challenges we face with our education system pale in comparison to the situation at rural schools here, where there is barely a book. And as a result of HIV and AIDS, some families have no parents, leaving teenagers to raise their toddler siblings or one lone neighborhood grandmother to look after 20 school kids. But young people are nothing if not enthusiastic, optimistic, and resilient. For that reason, the U.S. government invests a lot of resources in supporting groups and people who help young South Africans. Everyone needs an extra boost at some point in their lives, and these kids deserve it. We fund or organize after-school tutoring in English, math and science; meals and programs for AIDS orphans and vulnerable children; and libraries and scholarships for poor, but motivated kids.
Without a doubt, the highlight of diplomatic work is spending time with a big group of South African kids singing Shosholoza with huge smiles and sparkling eyes. And that is exactly what we did with the U.S. Soccer team on Sunday. The players warmly made themselves available for a few hours so the kids could watch them kick around a few soccer balls and get autographs. It was a gorgeous afternoon, warm and sunny, and filled with great energy. After blasting the parents and adults into seats at the other end of the stadium with their American flag vuvuzelas, the kids took over the track around the pitch so the players could sign their bright red t-shirts. It was a great media moment. The media was there in force -- including some British journalists trying to suss out our secret game plans. Because few kids get to meet a World Cup team player up close, this was a real opportunity. They'll still cheer for Bafana to win, but the USA will be a good back up team.
Many kids here are already singing the words of K'naan's amazing anthem of the 2010 FIFA World Cup: “When I get older, I will be stronger, They'll call me freedom, just like a wavin' flag…”
To view photos from the U.S. Embassy Pretoria, click here.Follow the U.S. Embassy Pretoria on Facebook and Twitter.For information on the World Cup in South Africa, visit the U.S. Mission's website.To view Sharon Hudson Dean's previous entry, click Vuvuzelas: Introducing a South African Tradition to the World Cup. To view Sharon Hudson Dean's next entry, click U.S. Embassy Pretoria Prepares for Vice President Biden's Visit to South Africa.