People's Post

Transformation driven by love

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Some of the Sozo Foundation’s Youth Café students at last year’s award ceremony. PHOTO: Racine Edwardes
Some of the Sozo Foundation’s Youth Café students at last year’s award ceremony. PHOTO: Racine Edwardes

After the fall of the apartheid regime, the community of Vrygrond, which is one of the oldest informal settlements in the Cape, was formed – an overcrowded, under-resourced and crime-ridden site covering one square kilometre.

The Sozo Foundation, established by Anton and Elana Cuyler in 2011, sought to bring hope to residents by creating a pathway to employment through education, skills development and social enterprise.

“Ten years later, the foundation has built an extensive education centre in the heart of the community, has a dedicated skills development training centre, three established programmes, 51 staff members with 71% of staff being from the community of Vrygrond itself, and has seen thousands of young people’s lives transformed,” explains Sophie Olivier, media officer at the foundation.

In the decade since it was founded, Sozo has designed and implemented a number of programmes to provide a positive alternative to drugs, alcohol and induction into crime, and allows youth to learn the skills necessary for employment.

Their after-school programme, Sozo Educentre, is available to high school learners residing in Vrygrond and attending schools on the Cape Flats; and their Youth Skills Development (YSD) programme, the Sozo Youth Café, is a vocational training programme. The YSD programme was launched in 2016 with the local department of social development to train 85 unemployed youth from the community.

Olivier explains: “Youth Café students choose from various free, three-month training programmes in coffee barista, artisanal baking, hairdressing, beauty, graphic and digital design, or construction skills. Students also take part in life-skills, vital personal development courses and job readiness training to further their careers.”

A former beauty student from the Youth Café Nqobile Nzuza says: “I learnt 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 learnt a lot of things that I thought I would probably have to go elsewhere for.”

Since YSD’s inception, 1 157 students have passed through the programme and 82% of them went on to do industry internships, became employed, or decided to engage in tertiary studies.

“Sozo continues to contact past learners and provide them with any help they may need, from accessing employment opportunities to interview preparation and CV writing.”

When asked why he keeps coming back to Sozo after completing his course in hospitality, Mzoxolo Zwelibanzi says: “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.”

Sozo programmes are also highly commended, having received the Gold Award for Creating Opportunities for the Youth at the Department of Social Development Youth Excellence Awards in 2016. In 2017, they received the Gold Ministerial Youth Excellence Award for Creating Spaces for Identity and Belonging, also from the Department of Social Development. In 2018, they launched the social enterprise bakery The Wild Goose, and, in 2019, The Dancing Goat Roastery and Kingdom Builders.

“Sozo is helping to break generational cycles of poverty, rejection, and neglect. Young people who were previously sitting at home, unable to find employment or support themselves, are learning the skills needed to get jobs and begin their careers. Many of them work as entrepreneurs and strive to employ others from their neighbourhoods, while others join industries and change workforce dynamics,” Olivier says.

And plans for changing the community even further in future are already in motion, she adds.

“The next 10 years are proving to already be exciting and full of growth as we move into a new facility for skills training and social enterprises in July. We have secured a three-year lease on a 660 square metre building in the neighbouring Capricorn Business Park and will continue to use the current Youth Café site for our Educentre programme. Our long-term goal is to purchase the building for sustainability and future growth.”

But underpinning every action, activity and programme, Olivier concludes, is love.

“It is the highest value in every training, tutoring, and life skill session – transforming lives from the inside out. Against all odds, Sozo rewrites the script for thousands of young people who encounter the truth that in this tribe, ‘You belong, and you are loved’.”

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