Thursday, February 08, 2007

First game ranger intake for Umzi Wethu

The Wilderness Foundation UK actively supports the Umzi Wethu social project in South Africa. We are pleased to relay the lastest new received from the project:

The first intake of trainee game rangers has been enrolled in South Africa’s pioneering Umzi Wethu, which is harnessing the power of nature to create career opportunities for socially vulnerable young people.

In April 2006, the Umzi Wethu campus in Port Elizabeth opened with its first group of students, who are now in their ninth month of training for hospitality positions in the eco-tourism industry. They will graduate in July this year.

Umzi Wethu provides free training, accommodation, health care and allowances for young people who would otherwise have little hope of becoming productive members of society. It is an initiative of the Wilderness Foundation and over 35 partners from a number of sectors and disciplines.

“Best of all, through our links with the growing eco-tourism industry, we are able to provide jobs for successful students,” adds Muir.

The 2007 programme will meet a need for more game rangers in the Eastern Cape. The students are from rural Eastern Cape towns, including Pearston, Somerset East, Kirkwood and Steynsburg. All are being accommodated at the Umzi Wethu campus residence in the grounds of the Eastern Province Youth and Child Care Centre in Port Elizabeth.

The Umzi Wethu programme is unique in that it harnesses the healing power of nature to discover and fulfil the potential of socially vulnerable youth. As part of the life skills training and personal development students are taken on regular Wilderness Foundation trails throughout the Eastern Cape.

The trails are lead by the Umzi Wethu trail coordinator, and are aimed at promoting the students’ environmental awareness, self development, team building and life skills through the use of natural settings, says programme manager Debbie Gothan.

All Umzi Wethu students fall into the category of “socially vulnerable” youth, which includes those affected by HIV/Aids.

As part of the selection process, candidates are carefully assessed to ensure that they are “socially vulnerable,” she says. Over half of the students in the new intake have no source of income apart from a family member’s pension, 40 percent have lost one or both parents. Only one student still has both parents.

Despite these challenges, all students have a grade twelve certificate, and show a keen interest in changing their life’s circumstances, she says.

The 12 month game ranging course will culminate in guaranteed jobs for the successful students. Jobs have been secured at several well-known Eastern Cape Game Reserves, according to Muir.

During the first three months of the game ranging programme, the students will complete their Field Guide Association of South Africa (FGASA) level one training. Students will also attend learners’ and drivers’ licence training before completion of their FGASA level two qualification (NQF level four).

What makes Umzi Wethu different from most training programmes is that it focuses on the whole person, and not just vocational skills. It includes skills training, wellness, wilderness trails, and mentorship.

The first input focused on training students for careers in the hospitality industry. The students are currently involved in practical training at Conyngham’s Coffee shop in Parson’s Hill.

Umzi Wethu is currently planning its third training programme, which will focus on housekeeping / accommodation services. A second hospitality programme is also being considered and is being planned for August 2007.

All funding to date has been raised by the Wilderness Foundation from foreign donors, and the foundation is looking for local support to help extend the concept into the rest of the country and other sectors.

“What we have shown is the Umzi Wethu approach works. We are keen for it to grow to enable thousands of socially vulnerable young people so that they can contribute to the growth of our young democracy instead of facing a life of poverty and being a prime recruiting ground for criminal gangs,” says Muir.

Visit www.umziwethu.org for more information.

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