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​On Saturdays, the African Literature Bookshop fills up with people, who come for the creative lessons, as well as to share their stories.
JUST five months ago, 12-year-old Precious Khumalo was a tearaway whose life was spiralling out of control. She would sneak out every day after school to join her new friends in one of Orange Grove’s parks to experiment with cigarettes and alcohol.

A mural by young members of the projectA mural by young members of the projectHowever, this stopped when her mother registered her in an arts and culture project held every Saturday by the Boitumelo Project at the African Literature Bookshop. Sceptical about the idea, in the first weeks Precious reluctantly attended the Saturday sessions – until she discovered her passion for acting.

Now she has turned her life around and has a clear grasp of her future. “I look forward to coming here every Saturday,” she says. “This centre has taught me a lot about ubuntu and responsibility.”

The art and culture project was established in February to help families and youth in Orange Grove with skills training and craft activities. It is funded by the City of Johannesburg, and was set up as a safe haven for women, youth and children to be involved in creative past times of arts and crafts while learning life skills.

Activities offered at the centre include working on the communal flag, drama sessions, building puzzles, sewing lessons and storytelling. “This is a very exciting project,” explains Erica Lüttich, the creative director of Boitumelo. “This centre provides a safe place for people to come and learn something new.”

It tackles a number of social needs in terms of community development in Johannesburg, she adds.

Performing arts are also taught to youngstersPerforming arts are also taught to youngstersJust 15 minutes away from the centre of town, Orange Grove is on the verge of urban decline. It battles with alcoholism and drug abuse, as well as unemployment. Modise Mapitsa, an unemployed 22-year-old, regularly attends the sessions on Saturday, where he believes that his life has changed for the better.

Like so many others, he has found support and a lack of judgment once at the arts and culture project. “The project has helped me understand and be aware of my surroundings,” Modise says. “I now know that if I put my mind to something, I can do it.”

What he loves about the sessions is helping children at the centre with their drama skills. Mapitsa says there is a desperate need for activities for children in Orange Grove. “There is a lot of talent here in Orange Grove that is not being put to good use.”

Tassiana Ruge, a 40-year-old mother of three, is grateful for the free sewing lessons at the centre. They give her a chance to meet other women and share stories. “I am privileged to get an opportunity to learn sewing for free at the centre. I just bought my own sewing machine and hope to start a business soon,” she says.

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