The award is a joint project of the Mail & Guardian and the Southern Africa Trust – a non-governmental organisation that supports public policy development to overcome poverty.

I regard myself as being fortunate to have been one of the few invited to the event.

I had the opportunity to interact with and be exposed to individuals as well as organisations that are qualitatively confronting the developmental challenges that the Southern African region continuesto face.

Among the winners was a community-based youth organisation called Ikamva Youth. Ikamva means future in isiXhosa.

Ikamva Youth is a township-based nonprofit organisation with branches in Khayelitsha, Nyanga and Masiphumelele in Western Cape, IvoryPark in Gauteng and Cato Crest in KwaZulu-Natal.

The organisation runs after-school classes for pupils from under-resourced schools. It is run by volunteers – including students from nearby universities and local professionals who offer their time to assist pupils from grades 8 to 12 in navigating all their school subjects.

Asked why he got involved in the project, IkamvaYouthIvoryPark branch coordinator Joe Manciya said: “We are driven by the dire situation prevailing in our schools.”

According to Manciya, of the 30000 schools in the country only 1500 are “good schools”. That is, they have all the necessary resources and facilities, including libraries and laboratories.

Manciya says an estimated 24000 throughout the country are “bad schools”. That is, they are badly under-resourced.

A South African Institute of Race Relations survey released last year showed that only 10percent of the South African youth access tertiary education. Only a fraction of this comes from the townships.

“As Ikamva Youth we do not believe in folding our arms and pointing fingers. We assist the youth who come from poor communities like IvoryPark to take their future in their hands.”

The project’s success is measured by the number of Grade 12 pupils who access tertiary institutions and-or employment-based learning opportunities when they matriculate.

So far (according to the organisation’s records) Ikamva Youth’s matric pass rate has been between 90 and 100percent each year since 2005. More than 70percent of the last two matric groups gained access to tertiary education (compared with the township average of about 5percent).

Manciya says what makes the project unique is the fact that it is run “by the youth for the youth”.

The call from Manciya is that the country needs “an education revolution where all sectors of the community are involved”.

Parents must play an active role in supporting their children, while teachers must show their commitment to providing quality education.

Ikamva Youth is just one of the initiatives with which ordinary people in the region are making a contribution to bringing change to the lives of the poor and marginalised.

Having a youth-driven project winning such an award is an indication of the role they can play in overcoming the obstacles created by the unequal societies they find themselves in.

The awards must in general also serve as a clarion call for all sectors of the society to be involved in the fight against poverty and underdevelopment.

But it is important that those who do get involved do not do so because it is good public relations but because they are committed to changing the society they live in.

They must do so also driven by their commitment to social justice, and the belief that such justice will only come when those who do not suffer injustice are as angry as those who do.