Welcome to the Change Agents for Road Safety Blog (CARS)!
Coinciding with the Launch of the Decade of Action on 11 May 2011, the Global Road Safety Partnership South Africa, has launched the CARS campaign! In this space, you will receive a glimpse into the world of change agents! These individuals, as ordinary as you and me, voluntarily commit their time to facilitating a reduction in road crash death and injury.
The first Change Agent, Melissa Dolan, has collaborated with the GRSP South Africa since 2009. Melissa Dolan, a young lady from the Delft township begun her change agent journey at the age of 21. She resigned from her affluent position in a prominent car manufacturing company, to help teenagers in her community. Her focus was to help the youth turn away, from a life of gangsterism, drugs and violence. Melissa says that “in this community it is easy for children to idolize the drug dealers and shabeen owners because they don’t have clothing and shoes and these dealers give the children clothes and money and eventually, the children start doing drugs and later the children and their families have to stash the drugs for the dealer.”
The social issues are further compounded by unemployment which creates the opportunity for “the elderly and the youth to take up drugs and other addictive substances.” Melissa believes that the dependence on addictive substances is due to the idle minds of parents and youth who have adopted the “hand up – hand out” approach to life.
Her journey was not easy, she faced a myriad of cultural barriers. She surmises, “our community is very diverse, with different cultures and different races within the community. It is expected that since the man is the head of the home; the man should also make the decisions.” Being a young lady, tackling social issues, often resulted in Melissa, engaging with male figureheads, who were not accustomed to being challenged.
From this viewpoint, Melissa initially faced resistance from her community youth, but her dedication to making a change for others, resulted in the establishment of a youth group that later merged with the South African Red Cross Youth Group. The youth groups meets everyday during the week to share knowledge, skills and learn crafts that could boost the youth’s entreprenurial creativity.
Melissa smiles widely when she reports that, “small changes to the mindsets of the youth are being seen. They are now thinking what skills do I already have, that I could use to sustain myself?”
Various activities such as beading, sowing, baking and cooking are some of the small businesses which have currently sprung up since the emergence of the youth groups. Melissa has seen that these businesses have begun to earn incomes for families. More importantly, the knowledge and skills continue to be passed on to others through mentorship programmes.
As a Change Agent for Road Safety, Melissa heads the Walking Groups programme for a primary school located in her community. As a supervisor, Melissa, helps children travel to and from school safely, by meeting upto 40 children at a designated collection point; distributing reflective vests and walking with them along a defined safe route to school. The process is repeated when the lunch bell rings, Melissa is on hand, to return the children safely home.
Melissa supports the Walking Groups programme because she believes that the concept was highly applicable to her community and she strongly advocates that any parent can take on the responsiblity of ensuring, that their children travel to and from school safely.
The impact of Melissa’s change agent journey has resulted in a growing number of youth investing their free time, into developing their skills and realising that they are able to achieve their dreams. “It just takes one person, to raise another person’s, self-belief,” she states. This ethos resonates throughout the Road Safety Ambassadors group, which was established with the help of Melissa. All the ambassadors, are youth from the community who dedicate their available time to supervising the walking groups.
- Road Safety Ambassadors
Melissa, does not ask for personal recognition, her selflessness, is an attribute that some may never attain. Her story is a living example, of a simple act of engagement, that has resulted in life changing events for youth who could have become another statistic of violence. Melissa’s choice to make a difference, will have a resounding effect in the lives of others for years to come.
– “My child is your child” and my duty is to take your child to school as if it was my own” – Melissa Dolan (age 24).