Nzenze, 17, is currently enrolled in the eleventh grade at Vista High School and is an active member of UNITE, where learning about diversity has taught him to celebrate his unique identity.
Growing Up a Second Generation Immigrant
Nzenze is the youngest of four children. He was born and raised in South Africa, but his parents both migrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Growing up in South Africa has been a struggle for him because he recognises the detachment between his parents’ experiences and his own. He does not feel that he connects with his Congolese mother tongue, for example, due to his South African accent. “Sometimes, the difference can be hard. It can feel like you don’t belong,” he reflects. However, Nzenze goes on to say that growing up surrounded by such cultural diversity has made him more open to difference than he would have been if he was raised in the Congo.
“At first, I was afraid to join because they told us that everyone at school would look at us as leaders. I thought, what if confident people look up to me and realise I am shy; it will mess up the dynamic!”
UNITE As a Tool to Promote Personal Growth
“UNITE made me see how much we can learn from different people instead of judging and criticising,” Nzenze says. UNITE aims to promote acceptance and critical thinking in youth living in South Africa by facilitating programs which explore the themes of identity, integration and diversity. Students participate in activities which encourage them to think critically about their contribution to communities and effective ways to enact change. Initially, though enticed by the promise of building leadership skills and a strong community, Nzenze was rather apprehensive to join UNITE. “I used to be very shy,” he begins, “but I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I had to jump at the opportunity, because if I let it go, I’d continue to be shy forever.”
“At first, I was afraid to join because they told us that everyone at school would look at us as leaders. I thought, what if confident people look up to me and realise I am shy; it will mess up the dynamic!” Nzenze credits the shift in his confidence to his experience at UNITE camp, which was the first time he gathered the courage to actively participate in debate. Now, students recognise Nzenze for how articulate he is. “People say ‘let him go’ when it’s time to present because they like the way I speak,” he mentions.
Discovering the Value of Diversity
Aside from debate, UNITE has introduced Nzenze to the inclusive worldview he now possesses. “The biggest topic I learned through UNITE was about diversity. Diversity brings new ideas. For me, it’s the best thing that happens to people. You can learn dances and styles of dress and even see that your lifestyles are not that different.”
Nzenze appreciates the fact that his mixed identity allows him to relate to multiple groups. “It’s nice to have different accents and be able to adapt. I am comfortable with people of different races. One of my best friends is Xhosa. Sometimes he tries to speak my language and asks me what things mean in my language. Jade [UNITE programme leader] defines the term of us uniting. I looked around and realised we are united.”
“The biggest topic I learned through UNITE was about diversity. Diversity brings new ideas. For me, it’s the best thing that happens to people. You can learn dances and styles of dress and even see that your lifestyles are not that different.”