On Friday July 27, 2012 the Umzi Wethu training academy for vulnerable youth will celebrate the graduation of its 10th and 11th intake of students. The ceremony will mark the graduation of a total of 177 students since the project’s inception seven years ago in 2005. There are currently two Umzi Wethu academies managed under the Wilderness Foundation banner, a hospitality academy in Port Elizabeth and a conservation academy in Somerset East. A third hospitality academy (the first rollout of the model) is based in Stellenbosch and is managed by the Sustainability Institute.
The brainchild of Wilderness Foundation director, Andrew Muir, the Umzi Wethu model is a holistic one year, social development and intervention programme which seeks to empower displaced and socially vulnerable youth with the vocational and life skills required to successfully enter the workplace. The project harnesses the power of the wilderness, promotes personal wellness, provides credible training, and secures sustainable job placements for graduates in the hospitality and eco-tourism industry.
The benchmark Umzi Wethu Hospitality academy was established based on a feasibility study that assessed the job qualification needs of Eastern Cape parks and game reserves. Following its success, the Umzi Wethu Conservation academy was launched in March 2008 in the rural town of Somerset East.
Umzi Wethu is one of the most successful social intervention projects in South Africa and has been recognised through the prestigious Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2008 and the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur Awards in the Social Entrepreneur category in 2011.
In order to cultivate entrepreneurial skills in selected graduates, the Wilderness Foundation has also established the Umzi Wethu Catering Unit (a private, income generating enterprise) and the Green Leaf Café located at the historical Donkin Reserve in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape.
According to director of Social Programmes for the Wilderness Foundation, Pinky Kondlo, “the goal of Umzi Wethu is to fulfil the employability potential of resilient, motivated youth who have been displaced by poverty.”
Director of the Wilderness Foundation, Andrew Muir, is excited about the future prospects for Umzi Wethu graduates. “These formerly vulnerable young people are now well equipped with both life skills and work skills, and are set to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of their communities. The Umzi Wethu project is unique in that it combines the transformative power of nature with life skills and work skills to build well-rounded, skilled and confident individuals who can be mentors and examples to those around them.”
The Umzi Wethu graduates are all placed in jobs once they graduate. According to the programme’s statistics, job retention rate is between 80 and 85%. The jobs help graduates support themselves as well as their extended families. Further research into the success of the project over the last six years has revealed that 7-10% of graduates have either advanced to junior and middle management positions in eco-tourism industries, or have been enabled to pursue tertiary education.
The graduation of this year’s 19 game ranging students includes five individuals selected for additional field guide training. “This additional training includes FGASA level 1 and a driver’s license to equip them to work as field guides in private game reserves,” says Umzi Wethu academy manager, Paul Longe. “The field guide training is still underway, and will be completed in August this year.” Ten of the game ranging students have already been placed in jobs or internships at various game parks in the Eastern Cape.
The graduation includes another15 hospitality students who began their training as chefs and waitrons in July 2011. The placement for these students begins in August 2012 as they are currently assisting in the training of the latest hospitality academy intake.