IIkusasa Lethu Youth Project is an NPO with the primary objective of ensuring the holistic development of disadvantaged individuals who face various social challenges which emanate from poverty, unemployment, domestic violence and HIV.
The Project, which has been in operation for 20 years, recently set up a shelter for displaced individuals as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The army styled tented Camp is located at Wembley Stadium in Turfontein and provides assistance to disabled, homeless and drug addicted individuals.
Their main goal is to provide the opportunity for any person to redevelop their identity and re-establish dignity to their lives. The space provides, blankets, toiletries, sanitation, counselling and mentorship programmes.
Amongst the military environment are six queer men who now call Camp COVID home. Shelters that specifically cater to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people are safer, yet unheard of in Johannesburg. For young queer individuals displaced by the pandemic there is a real threat of being subjected to homophobic attacks at general-population shelters. But now, in addition to anti-gay violence and the inherent dangers of life on the streets, these youths have another fear: the coronavirus and its ripple effects.
Speaking to Christopher Martin one of the young LGBTQI youth who are living at the shelter he recalls “The first day at the camp was very harrowing, that first night is more so… We came from far and traveled many hours to Johannesburg, looking for possibility but unsure of what we would find. To then be displaced, lose my home and my job is very stressful. Sometimes all that is needed is time to come to the realisation that your life is not over. You are being challenged to become a survivor.”
The LGBTQI youth living at the centre have started a project titled Charismatic, Ambitious, Motivated People, through social media. The group aim to tell the stories of everyday people who arrive at the camp. Particularly the group is reflecting on the lives of migrants and displaced LGBTQ+ individuals at the camp.
The six queer men at the camp are using social media to showcase their daily struggles and share our stories of hope. Martin goes on to say, “We want to create an awareness of all of our daily lives to show just how much we have lost due to the pandemic. But more than that we want to show that we still have it in us to fight for our futures”
It is palatable that this young group is creating space to reimagine their lives by owning their past pain and reclaiming the truth of the road they have travelled. Although physically displaced they do not believe that they are homeless. Instead they have created a new community and a sense of family from the shards of lost hope.
“We are the new tribe, family. We represent ourselves as a united brotherhood. Camp Covid gives us an opportunity to rebuild ourselves and create a new family, a new home.”
About living in a general shelter, the group says that they have had no issues and that the care givers at the camp are sensitive to their unique needs and have created a safe space for them to regroup and heal. They feel like they are beginning to dream again and that they can finally see some semblance of a future at the end of the tunnel.
“All I want to do now is take the time to rest, heal and rejuvenate. As time slowly passes by I know I will find my feet, and my purpose but for now I am glad we have found each other.”