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Trevor Noah

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Trevor Noah is Giving Out “Fishing Rod” Lifelines in South Africa

South African born, Trevor Noah, has become a household name in the US as the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central and we’ve come to love his brand of social and political commentary. He also made the New York Times Best seller list with his first book Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood which revealed his tumultuous childhood growing up in Apartheid South Africa.

In April this year he launched The Trevor Noah Foundation (TNF) at the New Nation School in Johannesburg with the aim of empowering the youth of South Africa with educational and skills development programs to “improve their lives and catalyze change in their communities”. TNF will fill a vital gap for the estimated 3.7 million vulnerable children in South Africa who are in desperate need of systemic support.

In Noah’s autobiography he alludes to this problem and the potential solution when he says, “People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.”

This initiative will provide lifeline “fishing rod” educational tools that will allow them to pursue studies beyond high school. Trevor Noah epitomizes the ethos of “be the change you want to see in the world”, by giving opportunities to the youth that he didn’t have growing up.

In 1953 the Apartheid government introduced “Bantu education” which was a racially discriminatory curriculum where African learners were taught only basic skills so they could serve the white-run economy.

It was only repealed in 1980 by which time the educational institutions for black South Africans were under-resourced and under-funded. In 2018 the education system is still battling to overcome the damage brought about by this destructive act.

The desperate state of education options for black school leavers came to the forefront with the #FeesMustFall movement that started in 2015. The high cost of going to university has meant that many people do not have the means to further their education dreams.

Trevor Noah’s firsthand knowledge of the limited choices available to black students has fueled the creation of his foundation, “We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”

Thirty years after his first encounter with segregated schooling he is returning to his home country with the means to make real change in his community and find his own real life Wakanda, “A technological Marvel, hiding in plain sight and that’s allowed them to build something amazing.” He chose the New Nation School as many of the children there are orphans and vulnerable youth living in Child Youth Care Centers (CYCC) with limited family support. The principal of the school is open and transparent and welcomes change. At the New Nation School these children are doing well but are hungry and thirsty for more core subject options. Currently there is no art or drama options and no extracurricular activities. However, they are achieving a 90.7% matric pass rate – a figure that is impressive by current SA standards. The national average pass rate was 75.1% in 2017 compared with the US which boasts an 80-85% pass rate. The unemployment rate in SA for youth aged 35 and under is 55-60%, so exit strategies are vital to give school leaving students a chance at forging careers.

Noah envisions a future where each generation in South Africa grows beyond the generation that precedes it. To that end the foundation is working with students from grades 9 -12 to assist them with the skills to grab and succeed in post high school opportunities. The team will be working with government schools to address the systemic issues by offering psycho-social support, skills development and career guidance to improve the lives of the most vulnerable youth.

The TNF focus is on researching innovative approaches and have already partnered with Microsoft to offer a digital skills component for the students, as well as giving the teachers training to be able to use tech in the classrooms. Psycho-social support comes in the form of more educational psychologists on site who are able to positively impact student performance by minimizing barriers to learning and aligning academics with career guidance. The program aims to make this support mandatory in similar schools with a high population of orphans and vulnerable students. With a focus on mobilizing philanthropic capital, the TNF hopes to attract social partners and investors who share their long-term vision.

Shalane Yuen, the TNF Executive Director, expanded on the vision for the pilot program saying, “Our greatest task this year is to figure out how best to scale, and then eventually allow New Nation School to continue down the path of success. We are working closely with the school to build the capacity of leadership and staff. Thinking about sustainability is crucial to achieving long-term change.”  Shalane is passionate about making systematic, lasting change in the schooling system within 3 -5 years.

Trevor Noah’s insatiable drive to improve education in South Africa can be traced to his idol, Nelson Mandela, who believed that, “no country can really develop unless its citizens are educated.” We might think of Mandela as a mythical legend from a faraway country but his legacy is still pumping in the blood of people like Trevor who continue with the great leader’s vision – “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

These efforts bring to mind the spirit of the Black Panther, “Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We cannot. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”