Sat. Apr 20th, 2019

Making connections; Dusty Ray Bottoms and Amandla development

Dusty Ray BottomsSo much in life depends on making connections and some of those will surprise you like the connection between Dusty Ray Bottoms and the Amandla Development in Phillipi.

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I received an invitation from NGO Amandla development to visit their Adolescent and Youth Friendly safe space because of a tenuous link to one of their benefactors, RuPaul’s Drag Race Queen Dusty Ray Bottoms.

It was a far stronger connection that brought Dusty to the House of Smiles community centre in Phillipi. Dusty had met the founding director of the Amandla development, Scott Clarke, a year ago and felt inspired to help the group.

Dusty was then approached by Babylon night club in Johannesburg and Zero21 Social club in Cape Town in conjunction with MVT productions to perform in South Africa in January 2019. Dusty seized the opportunity to come out to South Africa to perform but also to get to see first hand some of the work done by the Amandla Development.

Amandla Development are in fact all about making connections. What they do primarily is connect learners in Phillipi with resources that the provide the support they need to complete their education and become employable, active citizens.

On their website Amandla Development describe the Resource Access Programme they run: “Because being ready to learn requires adequate access to supports like quality healthcare, good nutrition, and personal supports, Amandla facilitates a programme through schools to bring Philippi’s learners the knowledge, access, and empowerment they need to take charge of their educational journey and make use of the resources around them in the community.

“In a short time, Amandla has built the Resource Access Programme – or RAP – to bring practical support to Philippi’s students and to provide real-time guidance to help them take charge of their education journey:

“RAP brings nonprofits who provide help like tutoring, counselling, and positive after-school activities to schools to get students involved.

“RAP matches students with mentors as someone to look up to and be a real-time link to local support for issues ranging from domestic violence to substance abuse to not getting enough food to eat at home.

“RAP is turning the tide for Philippi’s students, and we want to get the programme into EVERY school in the community.”

One of those resources is the Adolescent and Youth Friendly Space (AYFS), a humble but vibrant space in Phillipi that hosted Dusty after they had been given a tour of the area.

Speaking of the experience Dusty said: “Well this is my first time out of my own country, I’ve been here for like a week now and every experience I’ve had has been so bougie and luxurious and expensive, so being able to take today to leave actual Cape Town and really explore South Africa and see the people who live here who are in need was heartbreaking.”

Dusty joined in a on a session of the AYFS after school programme, enjoying a play put on by the learners and joining in on a session of musical games.

The AYFS has an IT Centre that doubles as a quiet study area for students as well as music and dance programmes. Amandla partner with other NGOs to provide counselling, sexual reproductive health education and HIV and AIDS Testing. Dusty and a group of representatives from a foundation headed by a prominent South African actress were given a tour of the facilities in the form of roleplaying scenarios that young people come to them for help with frequently. It was a sobering introduction to the work done at the AYFS bringing home the reality of life in Phillipi.

As a data driven NGO Amandla produce an incredibly detailed report card of key indicators that displays in cold hard text the challenges facing young people in Phillipi but statistics don’t have names or faces and they are hard to connect with if you don’t at least have a basic understanding of what things are really like.

The AYFS is a noticeably friendly place, and this is by design and is part of the vision for the space.

As Dusty played games with the children of the AYFS, I stood a distance away waiting to speak with him and taking in the surroundings and looking over Amandla Developments data. I began to panic because I didn’t think there was any way for me to accurately convey what I had seen or learned in a way that anyone would be interested reading. I stewed on this for a week before launching into writing this because people were expecting something from me but I am still terrified that I cannot do justice to all the actors in the surreal slice of life that was a Monday afternoon in Phillipi.

I do know that Dusty was genuinely touched by both the work being done and the kids of the AYFS and the staff that spent some time with the performer.

Dusty said: “It was touching spending time with those kids. I love what is going on here, there feels like there is so much hope and love and excitement with the staff members and all the people that are here. It is just really beautiful.”

In the limited time I spent at the AYFS I got a sense that everyone involved was committed to doing as much as they could to help the community of Phillipi while at the same time seemingly all of them were prepared to see a large portion of their efforts go in vain.

Part of Amandla developments data focused approach involves maximizing their success rates by networking with other NGOs and government departments and accurately measuring the outcomes. In a short amount of time since being established the Amandla development have made an impact but their greatest challenge is the one that brought Dusty to Phillipi. The performer had raised a sizeable sum to contribute towards Amandla’s annual costs but the organization remains in need of further funding to extend and maintain their work.

There isn’t anything about this piece that is news and I hope it doesn’t come across as a Press release for an NGO.

The entire experience left me with mixed feelings, I was delighted that Amandla were doing the work they were doing and thrilled that a drag queen that I admire, Dusty was involved with a worthy cause but at the same time I was overwhelmed by the feeling that for all the efforts of these wonderful people the problems of the people of Phillipi and elsewhere in South Africa won’t be budged by a handful of NGOs. And that this crude attempt to convey those experiences and call people to action would just fall completely flat.

I did it anyway because there are good people everywhere and while I may not be one of them I might as well try to shine a light on them.

If you feel urged to help Amandla Development in any way they have bags of information and contact details at www.amandladevelopment.org.

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