A guiding hand, the chance to learn a skill and be exposed to the workplace is transforming the lives of vulnerable youngsters in the Western Cape.
In 2010, husband and wife team Anton and Elana Cuyler traded in their jobs in England and moved to Cape Town to volunteer as youth workers at the Bay Community Church in Vrygrond – an area characterised by terrible living conditions, abuse, gangsterism and violence.
“We were moved by what we saw and decided to try and play a role in transforming the community,” said Anton.
This was the start of the Sozo Foundation, a non-profit organisation that today offers educational support, skills development, life skills training, nutrition and other services to thousands of children and youth in Vrygrond.
The centre of the foundation’s skills development initiatives is the Sozo Youth Café, where students are taught everything from graphic design, to hair and beauty, coffee-brewing, artisan skills and computer training. In 2018, 751 youth between the ages of 16 and 26 were trained at the Youth Café. Of the students who graduated, 83 percent were placed in employment, entrepreneurship or educational opportunities.
“Our goal is to see every student who graduates from the Youth Café finding employment, internships or enrolling for further studies,” said Elana.
After the training, students are sent for a week of job shadowing to get their first taste of the workplace.
“Most of our students have never had previous work experience. We have partnered with local businesses who help us facilitate the job shadowing process,” Elana explained.
After graduating from matric in 2016, Garrison Kivido was part of the first intake of Youth Café students in 2017. After going through the one-month life skills training programme at the café, he chose to continue on to the graphic design skills training programme.
“It was an enriching experience to meet people from different backgrounds and to learn about other students’ dreams and how we all had different talents and abilities,” said Garrison.
During the programme, Garrison discovered a passion for camera work and video editing, which was encouraged by his Youth Café mentor. When he graduated, he was immediately offered an internship at Media Village – a media production company in Muizenberg.
He went on to gain advanced skills in videography, editing and special effects, and has had the opportunity to work on movie sets.