Youth unemployment has been described as a ticking time bomb in South Africa. "We have 9.2 million unemployed youth," says Adri Marais, CEO, Christel House South Africa. The school's new Youth Bridge program provides a pathway to help job-seekers.
Youth Bridge supports unemployed youth (15 to 35-year-olds) and helps them bridge the gap between their undiscovered ambitions and abilities and the career opportunities that await them. It draws on lessons from Christel House South Africa's successful efforts over the past 22 years to support vulnerable youth to secure gainful employment.
The school engaged with experts on how to create sustainable and viable solutions around our new Youth Bridge Initiative. Key themes include the perceived disconnect and mismatch of expectations between the youth and the South African industry, potential strategies that businesses and entrepreneurs can implement to generate new employment opportunities, how youth who come from vulnerable communities can be better supported and, most importantly, how a character-based, career-focused approach will support young work-seekers in their career journey.
The program provides unemployed youth the opportunity to engage in a 6-month program that includes full-time intensive contact sessions, bolstered by 4.5 months of longitudinal support and mentorship. Participants receive character development lessons, computer training, financial literacy education, career etiquette, establishing a career path and a psychometric assessment to assist in finding their passion. Mentors connect graduates to further education opportunities to improve their skills and employability and eventually match them with potential employers.
“Youth Bridge recognises the challenges that the emerging workforce faces in not only securing employment opportunities but also in maintaining positions that offer growth potential for career advancement. Our role is to act as the unifying force, which brings our partners and youth together for a common purpose – to make a meaningful impact in the lives of the next generation,” said Ayanda Mvandaba, Managing Partner of the program.
Students who attend Christel House South Africa (CHSA) come from some of the most vulnerable communities in Cape Town – areas notorious for crime, gang violence, substance abuse and unemployment. It affects students in a multitude of ways and often leads to deep-seated trauma. Christel House provides life-changing support for our students.
It is widely believed that children who have had more than a handful of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) suffer from trauma and struggle to thrive. ACE’s are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood and negatively impact the child’s life and education. In adulthood, the person may experience issues like chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse. Receiving love, understanding as a child, and having the ability to trust someone, like a teacher or counselor could mitigate the effects of trauma. “As a trauma-informed school, our teachers and staff acknowledge the multidimensional nature of trauma – and commit to meeting our children with care,” says Danielle Kinshella, CHSA Junior School Counselor. She explains that poverty causes emotional and social challenges, health and safety issues, and acute and chronic stressors in children. “Our social services department includes nurses, social workers and counselors who work with our teachers to help students overcome issues such as stress, anxiety, and trauma.”
The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), an independent research agency conducted interviews with CHSA students and alumni in August 2020. They found that students appreciate the “warm and positive institutional culture” and alumni believed that “without interventions from counselors and social workers at Christel House, they would not have been able to overcome traumatic circumstances at home and successfully navigate their schooling and professional careers.” Research has proven that children who experience poverty and have undergone severe trauma are not likely to excel. Yet, Christel House students continue to break the mold. “We believe that this is a direct result of our holistic model, our trauma-informed practices and the remarkable resilience shown by our students.”
In a digital innovation competition, a team of Christel House students developed a winning concept for an app to tackle the unemployment crisis in South Africa. The six students won the award as part of the goIT program, a competition that gives middle and high school students a hands-on technology education. The Christel House South Africa (CHSA) students competed against seven other schools during the goIT challenge. The CHSA team app idea would allow a user to search for job openings in specific industries. As part of their concept, the app goes a step further by recommending upskill opportunities for available positions by suggesting courses the user might take to qualify for the open jobs. For their concept, each of the CHSA students were awarded a tablet for winning the challenge. Alutha, Grade 9, was inspired working with her classmates. “I have a great interest in technology and coding,” she says. “After winning this challenge, I would now love to pursue a career in a coding related field.” Mr. Cedric Esterhuizen, Head of the Language, CAT, Robotics & Droning Department is proud of the CHSA team’s showing. "The students really put their best foot forward,” he says. “Their work ethic was admirable as they developed their concept."
Christel House South Africa (CHSA) students learn to dream big and think creatively from a young age. Timia L., a 7th grader, has created a thriving business baking and selling boxes of butter biscuits in her community. But with her entrepreneurial mindset, she found a unique way to make her baked goods even more popular. Timia came up with the idea to sell the biscuits in single servings! She knew that community members would love the sweet treats and they would be able to more easily afford the cost of individual biscuits, especially during the pandemic. Her newfound customers bought the biscuits at R1 each (around 10 cents in USD) and her business started thriving. Timia credits her grandmother for teaching her how to bake the biscuits. Timia dreams of one day teaming up with her grandmother to open their own bakery, cooking treats side-by-side. Timia also wants to see the world. “I hope to be able to travel,” she says. “I’m saving money to one day visit London.”
Timia’s mom, Vanessa, is also a familiar face at CHSA. She has volunteered at the Christel House library since 2015. Like her daughter, she’s fulfilling her own dreams. Vanessa plans to become a teacher. With encouragement from colleagues, she is working as a teacher’s assistant at CHSA while taking classes to become an instructor.
Cee-Jay, a Grade 9 student, has a love and talent for art. When he was diagnosed with Keratoconus, a progressive eye disease that hinders his ability to see properly, students and staff at Christel House South Africa (CHSA) stepped forward to raise funds to provide treatment.
Cee-Jay struggles to see the board in his classroom. He has only 20-25% vision but enjoys drawing and would one day like to see his artwork in galleries. “It is through my late grandfather, that I have a passion for art,” says Cee-Jay. His sight can be corrected with highly customized contact lenses, but the cost of the special contact lenses is expensive. To show support for their classmate, CHSA organized a charity run and distributed fundraising lists to each high school student to help raise donations for Cee-Jay. Working with Eyes to Eyes, a South Africa nonprofit dedicated to overcoming corneal blindness, students and staff managed to raise the targeted amount for Cee-Jay's corrective contact lenses. The lenses are now being manufactured in New Zealand. “I feel extremely happy for all the support and the money raised for my contact lenses,” says a grateful Cee-Jay. “I still can’t believe that I will be receiving them soon. With the contact lenses that I will be receiving, I will be able to draw and see clearly.”
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