“The key is the difference in the young people”
The Hebe Foundation, a Baptist-led youth organisation that helps people aged 13-20 discover their talents, is seeing increasing demand for its work
It’s the mid 2000s. Then, as now, London gang culture was headline news. Amie Buhari is a youth worker, involved with churches, local councils and other organisations in London. She’s becoming aware of youth alienation. She knows all too much about the lure and danger of gangs, with a family member caught up in one. She is also sensing a generation’s growing disillusionment about being tarred with the same gangland brush.
Amid this environment, she’s reflecting on her youth work with growing unease. “I wasn’t happy with how we were doing it – we weren’t investing in the young people and seeing them grow.
“I knew that God had placed these burdens on my heart, and I just felt it was time to do something about it.
“So I decided ‘God, let’s do this!’”
In 2007 Amie set up Hebe Foundation, with the aim of helping young people discover and use their talents. She wanted to create events and programmes that would challenge and encourage them, giving them a safe environment to try things, learn new skills, fail and grow.
Hebe’s first project was a play called Gone too Far, written by the young people as a direct response to gun crime. It toured several (mainly Baptist) churches. The following year saw Junior Apprentice, based on the hit TV show. The three week project involves young people given a series of challenges and working alongside local businesses and the community. Since that first event Junior Apprentice has gone from strength to strength, and now operates in six London boroughs for around 140 young people (aged 13-19) each summer. Most Junior Apprentices are based in a Baptist church, and as Hebe works with all faiths and none, it is giving many young people a positive association with church.
Other projects include Urban Debaters, a five day course in half-term where young people learn the art and techniques of debating and communication in a series of workshops. Hebe also co-ordinates mentoring for young people, and workshops for parents and carers of young people.
A new addition is Digital Disruptors, which ran for the first time in 2018 and gives young people an insight into the ever growing digital marketing industry. Amie says the programme has the potential to instigate a far healthier approach to social media.
“They can see behind the scenes; get an insight into the industry, and are asked to create a social media campaign that’s positive for their community,” she explains. “It’s not just about engaging in social media and being a consumer, but looking at it from a different perspective, and, and possibly give them ideas for a future career.
“For young people now, they don’t know any different – social media has always been a part of their existence. This helps them to appreciate it more, use it in a more constructive manner. So it’s a really exciting programme.”
That Hebe was approached to work in partnership to develop and run Digital Disruptors is an indication of the regard in which it is held. In Amie won the 2016 Wise Women in Leadership Award, and a 2017 Point of Light Award with a letter of recognition from the then Prime Minister Theresa May. It has received Home Mission funding from the London Baptist Association to assist churches in developing their youth departments and youth community involvement within their communities. The BBC has come calling on occasions for comment on youth issues, and Amie is keen to build on the advocacy doors that are beginning to open up.
“The longer you are in the field the more people are likely to partner, and this was the case with Digital Disruptors. We were approached as a grass roots organisation with a track record.
“The key is the difference in the young people. When people volunteer they can visibly see the difference. It’s amazing the growth! It comes quite quickly. It’s very evident to see.
“We are seeing young people become lawyers, create businesses, breaking free of the boxes that society is putting them in. We are seeing a lot of change.”
In 2017 Hebe marked its 10 year anniversary, and Amie is feeling the call to work with and empower young people more than ever. She says the same issues are still there from a decade ago, but have worsened. She talks about a cloud over young people, and a spiritual darkness.
“There are more issues with broken families. Fewer girls are coming to us with teenage pregnancy, but mental health issues have risen. Everything is magnified; the potential to be exposed is higher; more complex issues.
“So we have to do things differently. The things that worked in the past won’t necessarily work now.
“We are trying to pierce through that cloud. I want to get people to catch that!”
Amie is also a member of the Children, Young People and Families Round Table, bringing her experience of outreach in the inner city to a national conversation.
Amie would like to bring the Junior Apprentice and other Hebe projects to other areas of the country. She says issues around drugs, alcohol, not enough youth provision and poor mental health are common to all parts of the country, which makes the programmes transferable.
Contact Hebe through this online contact form
Photos | Hebe Foundation
This article appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of Baptists Together magazine