Lifestyle review: Back from the edge: a defining moment in South Africa

Into the Big Wide World
Channel 4
Broadcast date to be confirmed

Star rating: 5/5

This Channel 4 documentary follows 11 care leavers aged 18-21 on an ambitious volunteering trip to South Africa, writes Natalie Valios.

The aim of the Selsa (South East London to South Africa) project in Lewisham is to give these young people self-belief and stop them drifting into unemployment and crime.

So we meet Jamaal, living independently but struggling to cope. He faces eviction for unpaid bills. Joe is also living independently in a bedsit that clearly reflects his mental state completely chaotic, with the windows and curtains closed. He is hiding from life and it’s no surprise to hear he’s been suicidal. When asked what his strengths are, he replies: “I have no strengths.”

Emma wants to go to university because “you go from lower class to middle class” but drops out of college just before the trip. Kerry can’t control her anger.

With little structure or rules in their lives back home, the first week in a Johannesburg township proves testing as the young people have to abide by a bedtime curfew and, instead of going shopping as they had wanted, had to attend meetings highlighting council work with South African disadvantaged children. They appear to be missing the point of the trip.

Then – minus Kerry who was sent home after losing her temper several times – they drive to a monkey sanctuary, stopping to look at the breathtaking views. Only then can you see it dawn on them that there is a big wide world out there full of possibility.

But it’s when they start caring for the monkeys that the real changes begin. Watching Joe tenderly stroke them is an emotional moment, especially when he says: “You don’t know how many dead years I’ve had not feeling anything. I don’t want it anymore.”

In turn heartbreaking and heartwarming, this programme offers proof that by instilling a sense of self-belief and hope in troubled young people they needn’t become another statistic of failure.

As Joe says: “I’d forgotten what it was like to have a purpose, a point, a reason to breathe. The monkey sanctuary is as good a reason as any, so I’m going back.”

Natalie Valios is deputy content editor at Community Care

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