The Umzi Wethu model is a one year, social development and intervention programme for displaced and socially vulnerable youth (those who have lost one or both parents, are child headed households or live in households with no formal income). It draws on opportunities presented by gaps in various sectors including the hospitality and eco-tourism industry in South Africa focusing on teaching core skills in the hospitality industry which will later on assist our students in finding jobs.
Kwanele Ncipa, an Umzi 7 graduate, was born in a small town called Alexandria in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. He is now working as a line 2 cook in Rhode Island USA. At the age of 29 years old, Kwanele has travelled and worked internationally in some of the most popular restaurants in the world.
Kwanele is one of many students who have proven that no matter your circumstance, if you follow your dream and work hard you can achieve anything you set your mind to.
Read below our interview with Kwanele to find out more about his inspiring story.
Tell us about your journey with WFA?
“I was born in a small town called Alexandria before moving to Port Elizabeth. Alexandria had very limited resources to empower young people. After I passed my matric, I had nothing to do and felt stuck and stagnant. I had big dreams and wanted to study further but due to my lack of finances, I couldn't.
When I heard about Umzi Wethu, I was immediately interested because my dream was to become a chef. My passion for cooking came from my Home economics classes at school where I got inspired to learn new dishes. In 2009, I was fortunate to be chosen as one of the 20 candidates to become a student at Umzi Wethu.
After Umzi Wethu, I started off building experience and working at different restaurants in South Africa. There I was exposed to many different international cuisines. I have since worked at some of the best restaurants in Florida, America and am currently working as a line 2 cook in Rhode Island, USA.
Umzi Wethu was the breakthrough of my life; I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and ran with it as I knew it was my ticket to my destiny. I saw myself travelling the world working as a Chef and here I am today where my dream is gradually taking shape and becoming a reality.
With determination, resilience and hard work, rubbing shoulders with positive and motivating people, I believe you can become and achieve anything you want in life, regardless of your disadvantage background.”
What lessons did you learn from Umzi Wethu that you apply to your life now?
“Umzi wethu taught us some incredible life skills. Some of the best lessons I learnt from Umzi Wethu were self-confidence, humility, and pushing myself for excellence in everything I do both personally and professionally.”
What has been your biggest challenge living and working overseas?
“Moving overseas was a big transition for me and my first challenge was the accent. It took me more than a month to understand the American accent and for them to understand me. The second challenge I faced was terminology. The Americans had their own words and measurements method and it took me a while to know the difference between litres and gallons.
Once I got settled and things started becoming more familiar to me, I really started to enjoy living here. “
What are your dreams for the future?
“My dreams are very straightforward and vivid.
Firstly, I would really like to go further my studies in a Bachelors Degree in Culinary Arts Science at the Culinary Institute of America.
I would then like to start my own catering company back home in South Africa.
Lastly, I would like to build and start a culinary studio or Chef School in the Eastern Cape for young people, especially those who come from a disadvantaged background like me.”
What do you love about your current job?
“As a chef you must always keep yourself updated. I am constantly reading books, researching the internet and getting to know new trends and the best chefs in our industry.
I love that with my job I am continuously being pushed beyond my limits. I have never worked in such a busy restaurant before until working here at Ballards and it continues to sharpen my culinary edge.”
“To me this is the beginning. I don't count myself as someone who made it. I am still at the bottom of our culinary ladder. But slowly and surely I will reach the top.
I would like to say a special thanks to Wilderness Foundation Africa and Umzi Wethu. I wouldn’t be where I am today if they didn't stretch their hand and help me and many others who have come from a similar background like mine.”