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23 Oct 2017 0

“Both being mentored and mentoring are active, growthful experiences.” Martha Sinetar.

There are many young people in South Africa today who are vulnerable and lead difficult lives in difficult contexts. Wilderness Foundation Africa’s Umzi Wethu programme assists the most vulnerable youth to realize their potential through providing them with personal growth opportunities, skills development, and an opportunity to develop a love and respect for nature. It aims to reverse their current circumstances through training for job placement which benefits not only the students, but their families and communities at large.

Part of the personal growth process is achieved through a mentorship programme, which aims to support and guide the youth to fulfill their potential and meet their goals.  

A mentor is a person who our students can rely on and who is not associated with other adults in authority with whom they may have had difficult relationships. Mentors are a positive adult role model, and the mentorship process involves coaching, encouraging, constructively criticising, explaining, listening and guiding and sometimes simply being there for the young person. 

Over the past year, Wilderness Foundation Africa have had amazing mentors who were willing to give up their time to provide guidance and support to our students. These mentors met with the students biweekly for one hour during the Umzi Wethu programme.

Wilderness Foundation Africa would like to extend our thanks to these mentors for devoting so much of their time and effort into other’s lives.

Read below to find out more about the journey with some of our mentors and mentees:



Elzabe Boshoff is currently working as the Marketing Manager for the Tosca Group. She is involved in maintaining client relations, online marketing and project management, amongst other things.

“Being a mentor has been an emotionally rewarding experience for me. I previously owned a dive school with my husband so I have always mentored and had a passion for mentoring the youth. I have had the privilege of being mentored myself and I think being able to be a mentor to these students is a great way to give back. To see the growth in a 6 month span, month to month has been incredible. It’s so amazing that these students don’t see obstacles that they went through in their past, but only opportunities.”

As a mentor, how do you feel you have added value to the students?

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When I see the students, I like to speak about their hopes and dreams for the future and give them career advice where I can. As a mentor, I like to encourage them not to be complacent. I like to ask them questions, for example: What have you done between now and the last time I saw you? What do you do in your down time?

We develop communication tools and establish meaningful conversations in their home situations, where it may often be difficult for them to communicate.

What are your thoughts on the Youth Development Programme and the work we do?

The Youth Development Programme is incredibly significant. I think the selection process of Umzi Wethu is extremely well thought through because it is not identifying lost youth but identifies those who want to grow in character and their careers. 

The programme is a great way for us to cross inspire each other and learn to pull each other up. I think it is so special because as a mentor I have found that I often don’t need to give the students the solution because they are able to identify it themselves. The programme is not only teaching these students but I am learning from them equally as much. 

Have there been any special moments you’ve had with your mentees that has really stood out to you?


I see this mentorship as a two way relationship. I’ve been through some trauma in my life as well and these students were there for me to lift me up. 

A very special moment for me was shortly before my students had to leave to their different work places. We had developed such a special relationship that it was difficult for them to say goodbye. I had to see them twice that week because they were not ready to leave and I told them that they don’t have to say goodbye as I will still be in contact with them and see them in the future. This moment really touched me because I could see how much they cared for me. 



Andrew Mackenzie grew up in the small town of Grahamstown and studied graphic design. He has been working at Boomtown Strategic Brand Agency for the past 12 years and is currently Managing Director.

“I have always been a people orientated leader and love engaging with people. When Wilderness Foundation Africa approached me to join the mentorship team, I was excited at the opportunity to engage with people, knowing that I can play a part in impacting the future of others’ lives. Being a mentor was a rewarding experience and the students that I mentored were such optimistic people, no matter what circumstance they had come from.”

As a mentor, how do you feel you have added value to the students?

We have all experienced either personal or business challenges in our lives and hopefully learnt from these experiences. We often wish we could go back in time with the knowledge that we have now. Being a mentor has been a great opportunity to be able to impart my knowledge from previous experiences onto these young people. 

What are your thoughts on the Youth Development Programme and the work we do?

At Boomtown, we have had the opportunity to be a part of the Demand Reduction Campaign of Wilderness Foundation Africa. I think looking at Wilderness Foundation Africa as a whole and the work they do, there is a good synergy between how the Youth Development Programme has been incorporated into the Conservation aspect of the organisation. The Youth Development Programme is a fantastic and rewarding initiative. It provides hope and opportunity to those who have given up hope.


Have there been any special moments you’ve had with your mentees that has really stood out to you?

I mentored three young guys from Umzi Wethu. We had both formal and informal sessions. Formal sessions where we would meet in the boardroom and watch educational videos, and informal sessions where we would hang out and get to know each other better. 

A moment that stood out for me was when I took the guys to the beachfront and as we were sitting there, a whole school of dolphins swam past. In that moment, it was such an amazing experience because that’s what the programme is all about. These youth sitting at Port Elizabeth’s most beautiful coastline in the midst of conservation and just taking it all in. 

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Simon Le Gras, owner of Simon Says- Design and Advertising started up his company in 2001. 

“When I started my business I had a lot of mentors that helped me. I believe that everyone should have many mentors as they help in sparking off ideas and assisting in decisions. 

Being able to mentor youth has been a great experience and one that I see as a lifetime relationship. The Umzi Wethu programme’s selection process selects positive and motivated people who come across as grateful rather than vulnerable.”

As a mentor, how do you feel you have added value to the students?

I think having someone there for you to give you advice is very encouraging and gives you hope. To me, this mentorship was not only a six month thing, but a lifetime responsibility.


What are your thoughts on the Youth Development Programme and the work we do?

I think it is a fantastic and really well run initiative. The selection process provides for everyone to go on to something better. 

A moment that stood out to me was when one of my mentees asked for advice on how to be a good father to his daughter. From a fatherhood perspective, that was a great connection for me. 

Have there been any special moments you’ve had with your mentees that has really stood out to you?

It is a very rewarding experience and it feels good to be able to give back. 

Another one of my mentees started selling his own music on iTunes and would send me his songs. That was very special. 



Leanne Bennett, part owner of The Graphic Vine started her business in 2008. She is a married, mother of two children and has worked in both the corporate world and in her own business.

“I think the biggest thing I learnt from being a mentor is that you go there thinking you are going to help someone but you learn so much along the way. It was a privilege to mentor these young adults.”

As a mentor, how do you feel you have added value to the students?

As a mentor I often spoke about real issues they faced in their everyday lives - dealing with work life, relationships and friendships. I was able to speak truth into their lives and allow them to think differently about how they did things. 

Having a mentor made them realise that even though they previously never had anyone to disappoint, now they did. They realised that there was someone who cares enough to hold them accountable and that was so important in the mentorship process. 

What are your thoughts on the Youth Development Programme and the work we do?

In South Africa, unemployment is a big issue and our problems seem so big, yet the Youth Development Programme is helping those in a way that’s sustainable. 

Wilderness Foundation Africa is doing incredible work because helping those few students can help the next set and so it extends. 

Have there been any special moments you’ve had with your mentees that has really stood out to you?

A special moment for me occurred around permission. 

I had taken my three ladies for coffee but they chose to have ice cream instead. When we bought the ice cream, they asked whether they could have two scoops and in that moment I realised the level of respect they had for me. I thought this was really sweet. There was no sense of entitlement and they understood that it was a treat.

Mentorship is not something to take lightly. There is an immense amount of responsibility for the mentors to shape and influence people they have never met before. It was such a privilege to be part of this mentorship programme and my three ladies are working hard and succeeding in life.