Slot into life

2009-09-14 00:00

“NINETY-five percent of the youngsters below the age of 20 in Edendale have given up on life and they’ve also given up on getting a job. They don’t know how to get out of the rut that they’re in,” observes Dave Lunderstedt, director of a remarkable Imbalibased youth empowerment NGO known as Slot, or School Leavers Opportunity Training.

Slot, established 20 years ago by a former midlands teacher Pauline Greene, has changed the lives of about 10 000 young people throughout South Africa and Edendale in particular.

Lunderstedt says he is still shocked by the gap between the circumstances of youth in Edendale and those in other more affluent areas of Pietermaritzburg. “I’ve been involved with youth for over 20 years and I am still shocked at the gap sometimes.”

Interestingly, despite the hype around the need to stimulate and foster entrepreneurship in the city, Lunderstedt says the majority of young people they work with have modest ambitions, usually relating to securing a stable income through employment.

“They’re looking for stability and continuity.”

He describes Edendale, which has been plagued by underdevelopment and poverty for many years, as “the city’s ticking time bomb”.

Slot helps out-of-school, unemployed youth in the Edendale area, focusing on improving the youths’ opportunities for the work place.

Their programmes include life skills, vocational skills (funding dependent), leadership training and mentoring of students.

Focusing on hope and access to opportunities, it is estimated that about 500 young people meaningfully interact with Slot every year.

Many young people in the area are lacking a father figure and a stable home environment. “They are taught to take responsibility for themselves and realise the world does not owe them a living; they in fact need to play their part. That is where Slot fits in and attempts to fill the gap of a concerned, well-informed parent.”

“A vital component of the attitudinal change is in the voluntary programme. Numerous students are invited into this part of the process and they assist Slot and other businesses in many meaningful ways, ranging from facilitation to in-house duties. Most of the volunteers find employment within six months of completing their first phase. They are assisted in skills development, shown opportunities, encouraged to be bold and offer their services free of charge, and basically start becoming proactive in the work place.”

In terms of funding, Slot is currently supported by the Department of Labour, the Belgium-based Broedelijk Delen organisation, the Durban-based Victor Daitz Foundation, the National Lottery, Hulamin and the Durban-based Baumann Trust. However, funding is a constant challenge for this well-run yet little-known NGO. Slot, which has struggled with this issue in recent years, found it easier to secure funding during the pre-1994 era.

“Back then, people were throwing money into South Africa. Many bilateral agreements then fell away. There is also a lot more competition for funding now.”

Slot had expanded its reach by establishing six branches (Pietermaritzburg, Durban, Nottingham Road, Upington, Plettenberg Bay and Grahamstown) by the late nineties. However, the NGO now operates from its base in Imbali, while also reaching out to France, Swayimane, Sweetwaters, Dambuza, Slangspruit and Winterton.

“Each branch needed to raise at least R1 million a year to be sustainable. This proved very difficult. From 2002, we consolidated over a period of three years.”

Although funding remains a constant challenge, Slot has been able to operate effectively with limited resources over the past few years. Slot has fostered strategic alliances and partnerships with other like-minded organisations. These partnerships have brought in much-needed revenue to the NGO, while also adding value to the property in Imbali.

The four-week life-skills course, offered four times a year, also boasts eight weeks of follow-up interventions.

A group comprising the top 10 to 15% of students is then placed in a four-week residential leadership course, which is offered twice a year.

“Then the top 10% of these students sign up as volunteers. We offer for them to go on volunteer courses. In every phase or course, we give them projects with time constraints attached. This gives them an understanding of the pressures and constraints of the working world. It’s about getting experience in a working environment ... and we achieve an almost 80% job-placement rate from this voluntary programme exit point.”

“We give them an opportunity, that’s our big thing,” adds Lunderstedt.

While thousands of young people in Edendale remain marginalised, Slot has quietly and effectively turned the streetwise into lifewise young people.

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