Thursday, April 20, 2006

Umzi Wethu Training Academy for Displaced Youth in South Africa

The much anticipated Umzi Wethu (Xhosa for “our home”) Training Academy opened in Port Elizabeth, South Africa 20 April 2006.

This ground-breaking project has been developed over the past three years by the Wilderness Foundation South Africa (WFSA). WFSA has led a consultative process bringing together experts from a wide range of specialist areas to address the enormous issue of youth orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and devastated by poverty. Professionals in child clinical psychology, youth welfare, and education, and local community groups and game reserves came together to develop a program that will enable displaced youth to learn life and employment skills enabling them to participate in the growing ecotourism industry of South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province.

The Eastern Cape is an area of very high biodiversity and great wildlife carrying capacity, and ecotourism is growing at a pace of 10% a year. Its 29 parks and 20 private game reserves are generating jobs that on average pay twice minimum wage but demand skilled labor. However, the AIDS pandemic is having a big impact on Eastern Cape (EC) ecotourism potential. HIV/AIDS hits people in their most productive years of life. About 3% of the EC Parks Board staff is lost each year to HIV/AIDS. In the hospitality industry as a whole, it is estimated that 24% of staff are HIV-positive – the highest ratio in an industry, next to mining. Yet to date the tourism and hospitality industry has not collectively addressed the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Umzi Wethu will provide the certified vocational training and learnerships (internships) that qualify AIDS orphans and vulnerable youth for guaranteed jobs in private game reserves and parks, secured by WFSA partnerships.

Nosimo Balindlela - Premier, Eastern Cape - South AfricaThe Eastern Cape Premier, Nosimo Balindlela, has recognized the unique contribution of this program and has become its official patron. She opened the skills centre and residential academy with a moving speech, describing Umzi Wethu as a “visionaryproject which will use our natural resources in a sustainable way to help young peoplecope with the way HIV and AIDS has affected their lives.” This underscored the WFSA belief that experiences in wild places have the power to transform and that theresponsibility for the future of our environment rests with the youth of today.

The launch reception was held at the newly renovated Umzi Wethu building. It was attended by:

· Nomsa Jajula, Provincial Minister of Health for the Eastern Cape, and Christian Martin, Provincial Minister of Public Works for the Eastern Cape. Both expressed an interest in working with the Umzi Wethu project moving forward.

· Ubuntu Education Fund, a township based community organization helping to select and counsel the Umzi Wethu youth.

· Africa Global Skills Academy, a firm designing the Umzi Wethu course that will ensure that all youth acquire three National Qualifications Framework (NQF) certificates during the program, and also receive some of the life skills training so essential for the adjustment necessary to undertake full time employment.

· Local game reserves committed to employing the trained youth.

· The Eastern Province Youth and Child Care Centre that helped WFSA secure the Umzi Wethu facilities and advised WFSA on youth care and social welfare issues.

· The Black Managers Forum, a network of successful business people expressing interest in participating in the mentoring program for Umzi Wethu participants.

· Contributors to the project including architects, advisors, private funders, potential sponsors, local businesses and other organisations who are keen to be involved with the Umzi Wethu project. As a result of the launch, funding was received from Volkswagen South Africa to outfit the residential academy with furniture, and WFSA continues to seek local and international donor support.

· WFSA board members from the United States and United Kingdom, as well as South Africa.

Timing of the event allowed 9 of the 15 youth selected for the first program phase to participate in the launch activities, experiencing their first opportunities as hosts. Dressed in matching Umzi Wethu t-shirts and trousers, they looked like any ordinary teenagers, hiding the fact that all have led very tragic lives, losing their families to the scourge of AIDS and growing up in town-ships with no hope or opportunity to realise their dreams.

Many of the speakers on opening day addressed the Umzi Wethu youth personally during speeches, charging them with added determination to succeed in their new career paths. The students were fired up about the facilities and services that were to be provided for them and expressed a keen desire to make the most of the opportunity that Umzi Wethu will bring. They shared their excitement about being able to financially provide for their extended families once employed in the promised secure job in an EC park or game reserve.

A reception with food and drink was then held in the newly renovated residential academy which will eventually be a home base for about 36 youth. The first intake of students is now settled into the new residential academy and undertaking their initial training courses. Within days of starting the program, for the first time in their lives, the students are beginning to dream about real possibilities.

Changing lives…for a better future through conservation.

Read more about the project here - If you're based in the UK and would like to support the project, get in touch - 08081786931

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