Usiko Stellenbosch is an NGO based in Jamestown, Stellenbosch, that uses a ‘rites of passage’ approach to provide guidance to at-risk young people who encounterpsycho-social challenges emanating in their communities; some are on the brink of expulsion from school and others are indulging in risky behaviour and may find themselves in trouble with the law. By using mentoring, wilderness and group activities, young people are empowered to see the value of education and work towards a hopeful future.
Many of the initial local founding members (mainly male) had a background in the scout’s movement, which had been a grounding influence in their lives. The Usiko Trust is also rooted in the awareness that Wilderness offers opportunities for experiential learning, opportunities to be taken out of comfort zones, the opportunity for true solitude and beauty, and spiritual connection in a place of quiet and peace. Wilderness offers healing and challenge and is a powerful metaphor as a physical and psychological space, “what lies beyond the industrialised boundaries of safe” (Pinnock, 1997). Wilderness offers a unique projective canvas for youth to project their fears, pain, aspirations and their energies (Naidoo, 2017). Many a deep insight, a new intention, a creative expression surfaces during the wilderness experience.
As apposed to the often individualised and commercialised socialisation of Western adolescents, in more traditional and socially cohesive cultures, youth are challenged by facing and experiencing a rite of passage to manhood/womanhood that is guided by the adults of the community. This process, a becoming, a transition from child to adult is often characterised both by challenge and growth. In the absence of positive adult guidance, modern rites of passages can be witnessed through, for example, gang initiations.
The legacy of the apartheid system had further seen a disconnection from the land, an erosion of the heritage and culture of the non-white population in South Africa. Wilderness Therapy re-instils a sense of pride and respect for these elements, connecting youth to their identity, environment and history.