A Life Skills Update from Wendy Ryan

4Project leader, Dr Wendy Ryan recently updated us with the progress made on her life skills course so far this year. This course is run in partnership with Evangeline Ministries in South Africa and has almost doubled in size in recent years. Where Wendy once took around 15 students every six-months she now has 24. Still there is a year-long waiting course to join the programme – a testament to the huge interest in the course that provides computing, sewing and English language skills, which now has over 500 graduates in the ten years that it has been operating.

When Wendy arrived in Cape Town, she saw that while women with HIV now had access to better health care, they still faced stigma because of their status and also had no skills to help them supplement the government grants many of them relied on exclusively.

The program has now expanded its outreach to include all who are disadvantaged and who can be described as “the least of the least and “the poorest of the poor” from Masiphumelele and other surrounding areas and townships.

1Among the new students is Tatenda who was recommended by a friend and previous graduate from the course. Tartenda no longer stays in Masiphumelele and travels more than two hours from the township of Phillipi to arrive at class for 9.00 am. Unable to finish high school because of a lack of funds, she lives with her family, but they are struggling to survive. Her earnings as a domestic worker and the child grant she receives from the government, are barely enough to keep them in food. Her husband works only when he can get a day time construction job.

Determined to do better, Tatenda does not let the distance deter her from coming to class on time. Because she is so committed and desperate to learn, Evangeline helps her with her weekly transportation costs. We are delighted to have her! Like Tatenda, almost none of the students have any computer or sewing experience and their educational levels are very low.

For the past few years the programme has been linked to an expanded sewing and income generating program, in the form of the Sewing Café. This effort is led by entrepreneur Athene Stephanou. Currently about 40 of EM’s sewing graduates have returned to participate in this programme. It involves coming together two days a week and sewing projects that have been generated by businesses in the broader community. We have more graduates waiting for further training on EM industrial machines that have been seconded to Athene. Some of the products the graduates have made include mattress covers for crèches (day care centers) in Masi, bags for schools supported by MediaCorp, and there are orders for school uniforms and other sizeable contracts which enable the graduates to earn income.

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