Every year, on 1 December, the world commemorates World AIDS Day to show support for people living with HIV and to remember those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses. This year’s theme is Global solidarity, shared responsibility.

South Africa (01 December 2020) – Barely a year ago, Cassius Mathebula spent most of his days looking for work – and he admits there were days when he wondered whether he would ever find a job. Today, this dynamic young man is on the frontline of the country’s fight against AIDS, and has become a powerful ambassador for achieving an AIDS-free generation in our lifetime.

Mathebula’s passion for healthcare was awakened when he became one of the more than 42,073 young South Africans to be awarded a 12-month work experience by the Youth Employment Service (YES), a non-profit organisation (NPO) that works with business, government and labour to build economic pathways for black youth.

He was placed with the Aurum Institute’s youth-arm, Youth Health Africa, an initiative which upskills unemployed youth and places them in clinics across the country to help combat HIV and tuberculosis in diverse entry-level roles. Today, Mathebula works as a HIV Self-Testing Soldier at Esangweni Clinic in Tembisa, where he screens up to 25 patients a day. Of these, between 2-7 are usually HIV-positive.

Mathebula is one of more than 100 YES Youth who work in healthcare as community healthcare workers, HIV self-screeners, lay counsellors, data capturers, HIV and TB researchers, and community tracers at the Aurum Institute and Witkoppen Health Clinic.

25-year-old Tshenolo Molatlegi, whose parents are both unemployed, is doing her work experience as an HIV Lay Counsellor at Youth Health Africa, where she is gaining first-hand insight into the role of the youth in addressing HIV in South African communities.

Obakeng Freddy Lekalakala grew up in Brits, far from South Africa’s main economic hubs. Since joining Youth Health Africa as a data capturer, he has not only been exposed to the world of work, but is gaining experience in how the public health landscape operates to address HIV in our communities.

Their stories highlight how the impact of employment on the lives of South Africa’s youth – and those of their communities – is not just financial, but social as well, says Dr Tashmia Ismail, the chief executive of YES.

“We are often so overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the youth unemployment crisis in our country that we overlook the massive social impact of employing young people. When given the means, young people have shown that they can make a real difference to the social issues facing our country, including the HIV pandemic, which continues to be one of the country’s biggest health challenges,” says Dr. Ismail.

To date, YES has worked with over 1,215 South African companies to create 42,073 quality work experiences in 22 months. This has seen R2.3 billion in youth salaries go straight into the economy.

For Mathebula, the YES work experience has been life-changing.

“Before I got this job, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I just wanted a job, but opportunities are so scarce. Now that I have this job, I want to make a difference in the world. If we all work together, we might even see the end of HIV in our lifetime,” he says.

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