The Valley Trust, Kwasa Newspaper and the Journey of a Thousand Miles

A story by Paula Green.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step… (Lao Tzu)

This is about how the Valley Trust in 1995 opened the door for youngsters, raised in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, to take the first step on diverse and fruitful journeys and whose footprints continue to enhance the fabric of life in the Valley, the Province and the Nation. Allow me to explain:  

In 1995, when we were all a lot younger (or some of us were not yet born!) I was in my final year of working in a two-year English, Science and Maths Project at the Valley Trust. I was the English specialist; Science and Maths were covered by two other colleagues. Our objective was to assist teachers of these subjects in the seven high schools of Kwadedangendlale (Valley of Thousand Hills).  Coming from the UK, my plan at the end of the project was to return to life in Leeds, my UK hometown. Didn’t happen!  I am still here, 27 years later, living strong and loving SA.  I mention this because looking back, I see how positive for me has been my own first step back in 1993 into a new and uncharted life.    

Early in 1995, the idea was raised at the Valley Trust to run journalism workshops. Sandile Ngidi, a published poet and editor of Realtime Magazine, offered his time, and I went to each of the high schools in the Valley to generate interest among the Grade 10-12 students.  The sessions were run by myself and Sandile.   

A bonus was that Sandile knew Lindiwe Ngakane, a Natal Mercury journalist (daughter of Dr Albertina Luthuli and granddaughter of Chief Albert and Queen Nokukhanya Luthuli), and she joined the team.  The young participants listened avidly when she ran her sessions; sharing the tips and techniques for what is needed to get articles into print.

With such professionalism on our side, that first step of the thousand miles felt more like a hop, skip and jump. Added to that, the youth from the schools in the Valley were dynamic, passionate, and super eager to use the chance being offered to them to learn skills that could lead to meaningful careers in journalism and related fields.

After about three workshops, it became clear that the youngsters had bonded as a dynamic team and wanted to put their newly learnt skills to use. Earnest discussion, planning, writing and editing gave birth to Kwasa (Dawn) – the first free community newspaper in the province!  The energy levels, pride and excitement on the launch of the first issue in October 1995 were sky high.  

We even made up our own song, and sung it as we travelled in my skorokoro to the various places to sell advertising space in the paper:  

            iKwasa, iphepha lomphakathi, linika ulwazi ebantwini.

Nomi Kwasa isikupukhela, uzubenayo isi izifikele!

Those were heady times!  The first issue of Kwasa was developed at the Valley Trust and distributed to communities in the Valley and surrounding areas.

My job at the Valley Trust ended in December 1995 and I moved to Joburg, but Kwasa had established itself by then.  A core team of the original youth continued to publish the paper on a monthly basis for several years.  During this time additional youngsters had the chance to come on board; several received bursaries for further study in journalism and many were able to use their work with Kwasa as a springboard into professional media careers.

The list of successes is heartening. Many of the youth who started with Kwasa, now hold key positions in the print and digital media, in government and the private sector. 

The remarkable thing about this ‘first step’ is the ripple effect for good that it has had on so many lives. There is Petros Msomi, the owner of the advertising agency, Update KZN, the (sadly late) Masindi Mkhize, owner and editor of Ezakwazulu News and Ningi Mgunge, camera person for Newzroom Africa; to name but a few. So many inspiring stories have come from this humble initiative, which we plan to feature in later blogs.  The main point to highlight is that all these successes started with a first step; taken in unison at the Valley Trust.

I ask myself what would have become of a whole host of now successful people if that first step had not been taken? And what first steps can the Valley Trust now plan to take with the new generation of hope-filled, ambitious, passionate youngsters of the Valley of a Thousand Hills?

Who knows where these steps will lead?


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