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Umzi Wethu Training Academies

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, training junior chefs and waitrons, as well as field guides and field rangers.

Kwa Zulu Natal and the Eastern Cape are two of the most socio-economically challenged of the nine provinces in South Africa. In the third quarter of 2015, Stats SA lists overall national unemployment at 25.5% and 36.1% amongst youth . The most recent statistics put unemployment in the Eastern Cape at 29,2% and Kwa Zulu at 20,5%%. Approximately 55% of the country’s AIDS orphans reside between these two provinces, which includes an estimated 160 000 child-headed households with little or no socio economic support. The SA Government’s National Strategic Plan for 2012-2016 aims to lessen the impact of HIV on orphans, vulnerable children and youth by ensuring they have access to the social services they need, including basic education, skills development and training. It is clear that there is a dire need for programmes that work with vulnerable youth in South Africa ensuring that they have sustainable, positive livelihoods for their future.

It is clear that there is a dire need for programmes that work with vulnerable youth in South Africa ensuring that they have sustainable, positive livelihoods for their future. Whilst youth training schemes do exist and are being run by government and other civil society agencies, the programmes are generally limited to either technical skills (hard skills) or life skills (soft skills) development.

Few programmes provide a holistic approach which augments relevant skills training with life skills and wellness support- essential for youth made vulnerable by an inherited disparity, poverty and the HIV/Aids crisis.

In addressing this, the Wilderness Foundation Africa has developed a number of holistic skills development and education interventions that harness the healing power of nature, to equip vulnerable youth to be economically active and environmentally responsible citizens. At the core of these interventions are carefully developed physical and psychological wellness programmes which aim to provide specific support to the participants as they complete the employability, skills development or vocational training aspects depending on which project they are enrolled in. Furthermore, the Foundation has seen just how powerfully young people respond to spending time in wilderness areas and based on their long history of using the healing power of nature for personal and social transformation, the Foundation has integrated various levels of Wilderness Trail activities into our holistic intervention projects.

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The brainchild of Wilderness Foundation director, Andrew Muir, the Umzi Wethu model is currently 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. Piloted within the food and beverage side of the eco-tourism sector, specifically training junior chefs and waitrons, the first Umzi Wethu Academ was opened in Port Elizabeth in April 2006. A second, very successful, rural academy was opened in Somerset East in March 2008 to train field guides and field rangers. We have also partnered successfully with other NGO’s such as the Sustainability Institute in Stellenbosch to successfully implement a full year Umzi Wethu programme at their facility.

Umzi Wethu has helped uplift well over 250 vulnerable youth in the Eastern and Western Cape who now have skilled fulltime employment in the conservation and hospitality industries. Apart from the Western and Eastern Capes we have recently grown our selection processes to include youth from Northern Cape and are looking at doing the same in Kwa Zulu Natal over the next few years. Key to the success of the Umzi Wethu model is job placement. An important part of this process is to raise funds for year-long internships to ensure that once our students qualify from the year long vocational programme they can seamlessly fit in with our numerous job placement partners and in the work environment. Our graduates are then offered fulltime positions once they are satisfied that they have met all the necessary requirements.

Key Focus Areas and Objectives of the Programme

Wellness (The Individual): To Improve the overall health and wellness (physical, psychological, social and spiritual) of all students to enable them to be economically active and productive.
Conservation (The Environment): To Improve the knowledge and respect for the environment through active engagement in conservation for vulnerable youth.
Social Responsibility (Community Development): To allow students and graduates to become socially responsible and contribute meaningfully to improve the communities they live in.
Sustainable Livelihoods (Financial Independence, Economic Growth): To provide the opportunity for graduates to attain a level of financial independence and stability from graduation and beyond.

Key Elements of the Programme include:
  • Holistic and nature-based social intervention projects
  • Empowering vulnerable youth with essential soft & hard skills to sustain livelihoods
  • Pathway development: e.g. Job & work internship placement as well as further education opportunities
  • Personal growth and development, leadership and environmental awareness
Profile of Target Group (Primary) Beneficiaries:
  • Youth ages 9-26
  • Orphaned & Vulnerable Youth made vulnerable through the HIV/AIDS pandemic; poverty and inherent disparity 
  • Rural & Urban youth from informal settlement areas

In both the Eastern and Western Cape the programme has recruited students from about a dozen different townships located around Port Elizabeth and Somerset East and the Western Cape – urban and rural informal settlements which are the most poor and vulnerable to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The programme also strives to achieve a balance of female and male applicants. The key approach to selection is youth-centred while also recognizing the needs of employers, and involves partnerships with many community-based organizations (CBOs), local government agencies and schools .

Expected Duration of Project: 07 Dec 15 - 07 Dec 15


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Interesting Reading

Follow the links below to download some interesting case studies.

Andrew Muir: Rolex Awards for Enterprise

Partners & Funders

  • Sanp
  • Globeleq
  • Haberdashery
  • Cacadu
  • Biotherm
  • Rmb
  • Hans H