There are more than 723,000 people aged 18 to 35 that are unable to find work as the youth unemployment rate rose to 61.3% in the final quarter of 2020. The future of South Africa is unemployed and confined to their homes, turning to drugs, alcohol, and gang violence as they struggle to support themselves and their families. To create lasting change to combat this, we need to provide more opportunities for youth to gain the vocational and personal skills needed to find work or start their own business.
The Amy Foundation, formerly the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust, was started in 1997 to continue the work of Amy Biehl, a brilliant young woman who dedicated her life to empowering and giving a voice to the people of South Africa. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and empowering township youth through after-school and skills development programmes.
The foundation offers After-School Programmes (ASP) to children in Gugulethu and Bonteheuwel; distributed over three centres, the ASP include dance, music, literacy, numeracy, sports, environmental activities, and life skills such as leadership development and health awareness. The goal of the ASP is to provide a safe space for children to stay after class and form new friendships and experience different activities.
Amy Foundation also offers Youth Skills Development (YSD) programmes at the main offices in Sybrand Park, between Athlone and Rondebosch. These programmes are for learners aged 18 to 35 with a matric that are Not currently in Employment, Education, or Training (NEET). Learners choose from free three-month programmes in hospitality, beauty, sewing and design, or technical skills. Learners are also able to take shorter courses in entrepreneurship or life skills, and all learners are offered one-on-one business coaching to assist them in furthering their career. One alumni, Nqobile Nzuza, said, “I learned everything here. Not only beauty therapy but self-esteem, how to start your own business, where to go, who to talk to, how to ask for help when you need it. I learned a lot of things that I thought I would probably have to go elsewhere for.” All programmes are designed to provide a positive alternative to drugs, alcohol, and violence, and allow youth to learn the skills necessary for employment.
Since the inception of the YSD programme, 1157 learners have passed through the programmes and are on their way to creating lasting change in their communities. 81% of those learners then went on to do industry internships, were employed, or decided to further their studies at university. The Foundation continues to keep in contact with past learners and provide them with any help they may need, from assistance writing business proposals to designing business cards and CVs. When asked why he keeps coming back to the Amy Foundation after completing his course in hospitality, Mzoxolo Zwelibanzi said, “…this is my happy place. Today I just have to come in. And here they assist you with your assignments, your schoolwork if you need any help like that.”
The Amy Foundation’s Youth Skills Development Programme is changing lives. Youth that was previously sitting at home, unable to find employment or support themselves, are learning the skills needed to get jobs and are beginning their careers. Many work as entrepreneurs and strive to employ others from their neighbourhoods, while others join industries and move forward in changing the dynamics of the workforce. The foundation continues to move forward with its mission, and over a thousand alumni are proof that what the Amy Foundation is teaching will help break the cycle of unemployment.