By Janine Erasmus
Just two years out of school, 20-year-old Kayla Norsworthy is intent on making her mark in her community. She recently became a member of R2K – the Right 2 Know campaign – where she works with other young people in her area. She's also a member of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), an NGO and umbrella body of organisations that lobby for better environmental conditions, and research and report on industrial accidents.
Norsworthy was born and raised in the community of Wentworth, about 10km south of Durban's CBD. The area is also the location of oil refineries and paper mills, as well as numerous smaller industries, and air pollution is a grave problem for the residents. In high school she became increasingly concerned about the high levels of pollution in the area, which pose a health risk, and got involved with the SDCEA through a workshop it held in 2011.
"They approached schools in the area, and the work struck a chord with me. I liked what they were doing, and I volunteered," she says. "Pollution is not only an important focus of the organisation, but it affects the communities as well. I was inspired to be a part of it, and I've been with SDCEA since 2011."
She wrote matric in 2012, and for that time her activism had to take a back seat, but she didn't stay away for too long.
Reaching out to youth
Norsworthy joined R2K, which advocates for the free flow of information as a crucial component of a thriving democracy, this year. Already she's driven the establishment of R2K Youth, a division of the parent campaign that aims to mobilise the youth and encourage them to stand up for their rights. So far it is only active in KwaZulu-Natal but there are plans to take it further.
“I'm currently trying to get R2K Youth well established in KZN but I do hope to get it started in other provinces, hopefully later this year or early 2015,” Norsworthy says. "We plan to start student chapters in high schools, like we have in universities, to give them a platform to tell us about their issues. It's an important part of R2K, and at the same time we're keeping the youth away from the bad stuff."
Her commitment to the cause is such that she recently turned down a job offer so that she could continue her advocacy work.
Young people interested in getting involved can interact with Norsworthy and R2K Youth via Facebook, Twitter or e-mail.
Corruption does the community no favours
Norsworthy has had no personal experience of corruption, but she tells of community leaders and ward councillors who, if there is an issue that needs addressing, will play up to any media that happen to be around and make grand promises, only to backtrack, stall and fail to deliver when dealing directly with the community. While not always the case, this can be an indication of corruption, in terms of officials being more concerned with their own personal gain than helping those they are supposed to serve.
As a first-time voter this year, she says that corruption in the government soured the experience for her. "I was excited about voting, but it was short-lived. If nothing is done corruption is simply going to continue, and it's bad for the country. At this stage I'm not sure if I would vote again."
But she has confidence in the ability of young people to make a difference. "We need more youth to get involved, to take the stage. The activists who came before us have done so much – we can't just sit back and let it be for nothing."