Pretoria – US actress and first-ever UN Youth Champion Monique Coleman began her tour of South Africa with a visit to Simunye High School in Bekkersdal, west of Johannesburg on 11 May 2011. Ms. Coleman has visited ten countries since the beginning of the year to speak to young people and raise awareness about their issues as the world observes the International Year of Youth.
Ms. Coleman, the celebrated actress in the movie High School Musical, met Simunye High School’s energetic youth club, which forms part of the Girls and Boys Education Movement (GEM/BEM), initiated by the Department of Education with support from UNICEF. Club members had the opportunity to showcase how they are dealing with social challenges in their community through peer counselling, campaigns on issues like trafficking and teenage pregnancy, and fundraising for disadvantaged learners. Ms. Coleman was deeply impressed by the efforts of the club at Simunye and congratulated the members on being the drivers of change.
“I’m just a girl from America who had a dream, and that dream led to new dreams that led me here,” Coleman told 100 eight graders of Greenside High School in Johannesburg the following day, 12 May 2011. Monique capitalized on the Youth Year’s theme of Dialogue and Mutual Understanding. First she screened a brief video clip about bullying from her online series GimmeMo so that the students could better understand her outreach campaign. Then she engaged the youths in a discussion about how to become “bully-proof.” Some students commented that they felt more confident after receiving Monique’s advice, and described her as being “real” and open. One student commented that “it is inspiring to have someone talk to us like we’re important and we can change things.”
At a lunch hosted by the US Consulate in Johannesburg, Ms. Coleman was able to meet Consul General Mr. Andrew Passen and various NGO representatives from the area to discuss the situation of youth in South Africa.
The day ended with a discussion at the Sandton Public Library in Johannesburg. During this event Ms. Coleman met with high school students from diverse backgrounds. She encouraged the students to find common ground with one another and to always to be kind to each other. She emphasized this by showing that she, too, coming from the United States, had faced similar situations to the ones they are currently struggling with, including low self esteem, academic progress and finding good employment opportunities when they finish their studies. She advised the students to make the most of their talents and to love themselves and others. She said that she hopes to see one day “great minds applied to great problems.”