On Friday July 29, 2011 the Umzi Wethu training academy for vulnerable youth celebrated the graduation of another 35 students from both the hospitality and conservation academy.
Five years ago, 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. The ceremony marked the graduation of a total of 142 students since the project’s inception.
Headed up by the Wilderness Foundation of South Africa, Umzi Wethu 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).
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 HIV/Aids and poverty.”
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.
Umzi Wethu is one of the most successful social intervention projects in South Africa and won the prestigious Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2008.
Director of the Wilderness Foundation, Andrew Muir, is proud of the legacy that the Umzi Wethu academies have created. “Essentially we are creating ambassadors for other vulnerable youths and orphans to look up to, and see a brighter outlook. Graduates from Umzi Wethu will serve as examples of opportunity and hope to both their own families and to the communities from which they come.”
The Umzi Wethu graduate job placement rate is 95%, job retention rate is between 80-85%. The jobs are well paid and support the graduates’ extended families. Further research into the success of the project over the last five 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 17 conservation 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 conservation students have already been placed in jobs or internships at various game parks in the Eastern Cape.
The graduation includes another18 hospitality students who began their training as chefs and waitrons in July 2010. The placement for these students begins in August 2011 as they are currently assisting in the training of the latest hospitality academy intake.