High Fashion and High Hopes

The phrase “High Fashion and High Hopes” was the order of the day last Saturday as the latest group of graduates from the Evangeline Ministries life skills programme celebrated graduation with a fashion show. The programme, which is part funded by Masicorp, has run successfully for over five years and can boast more than 100 graduates. Sixteen more graduates from within the Masiphumelele community can now be added to that number.

As the ceremony started the new graduates danced their way into the graduation hall – kindly provided by our friends at Living Hope. Each graduate was wearing a selection of the clothing they had made during the previous six months, and they took it in turns to show off their outfits. There was a real mixtures of styles on show – from professional business suits to colourful dresses, and for the first time two male students presenting shirts (and a colourful hat).

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The life skills programme has three components to it – computer training, English literacy and sewing skills. Each graduate received a certificate of competency in all three areas as well as a brand new sewing machine, from which they can continue to work from home and hopefully earn a future income.

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For the programme manager, Wendy Ryan, it was a successful end to another six-month cycle, but only a brief respite in her work. With over 60 applications received already it will be straight back to work selecting the next group of students for the second half of 2015. We wish her well and express our congratulation to each of the new graduates.

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A New Intake at the Sewing Café

It has been a busy start to the year with students heading back to school, college and university but over at The Sewing Café, situated between Masiphumelele and Kommetjie, a new class of adult learners is also making a fresh start. Eleven ladies from the township have started the six-month life skills program with a view to graduating in July and owning their own sewing machine. They also had a special visitor this morning as Masicorp founders John and Carol Thompson were in attendance, together with Jane Philippi from the USA funding team.

john at sewing cafeEach morning the women are tutored to improve their English language skills and learn basic computing skills. Today they were pleased to take a short time out to chat to John, who was amazed to find that some of the attendees had been living in Masiphumelele for as long as 25 years. There are eleven women in each six-monthly intake and this year only one of them had completed matric while not a single learner had ever used a computer before the course started. The course really is a life changing experience for everyone who can attend.

The course also supports Nonny’s bakery in Masiphumelele who provide lunch for the ladies each day.

nonny lunch arrivesAfter lunch the practical classes start with each learner having their own sewing machine to work on. On successful completion of the course each learner gets to keep the machine hence there is a real incentive to keep attending. With the course fees completely covered by Masicorp, the program has become very popular in Masiphumelele. In fact all of this year’s attendees heard about the course by word of mouth and its popularity ensures there is no need to advertise for places.

machinesEach lady will work on a practical project to complete a dress for their graduation later in July. They get significant assistance from graduates of previous courses who return as assistants. In fact four of the six teachers on the course are former graduates of the program. The life skills are taught by volunteer Wendy Ryan from Evangeline Ministries who took the time to show our overseas visitors around today. It is Wendy’s seventh year of running the program and we cannot thank her enough for all of her efforts.

Wendy’s hope for the future is that the commercial arm of the project will take off and provide more work opportunities for the graduates. Previously we have reported on their efforts to help the local community. Athene Kannmeyer, who manages the commercial work explained that several students return to work on contracts with local clients including bag making and mattress linings for crèches. Later this year two quilts produced by the team will go on exhibition with a view to being marketed in the USA. Another organisation they will be working with in the future is the Sparrow Society –a local social enterprise. Many of the graduates work from home and a group are even looking to join together and form their own business but the more commercial projects that the sewing café can secure the more work they will be able to guarantee for graduates.

Masiphumelele Library

For any resident of Masiphumelele wishing to improve their educational prospects the library is one of the most important buildings in the township. Under the leadership of Susan Alexander it is a vital source of free education and personal development for township residents. Masicorp and other NGO’s run many learning projects from the library. We recently reported on the most recent of these – a mother & toddler group – but Masicorp’s volunteers also offer 19 other programs in areas such as computer training and adult literacy.

Lib01Prior to 2003 there was no library in Masiphumelele. Masicorp was instrumental in building the existing facility and a later extension in 2010. For many years the library was run as a satellite of nearby Fish Hoek but gained full community library status in 2012. In addition to the educational programs there are now over 45,000 book loans a year made to members of the community.

Lib02Masicorp has about 50 active volunteers working on the various programs at the library, including many from the Masiphumelele community. To promote and share some of the many ongoing activities taking place at the library Susan Alexander and her team have now started their own blog. Please follow the link below to catch up with just some of the many initiatives happening now at Masiphumelele library.

Masiphumelele Library Blog

Masicorp Volunteer Training

Masicorp volunteers spend much of their time assisting children in the classroom; however, last Friday it was the Masicorp volunteers who went back to class themselves. Together with some of the staff from Ukhanyo Primary school around fifteen volunteers spent the afternoon in the school’s English Lab. The session was part of Masicorp’s volunteer training programme and had a particular focus on child protection. Many volunteers join organisations like Masicorp full of enthusiasm and excited to be able to help. Despite the excellent professional skills that volunteers bring to the organisation not all are prepared for the realities of working with township families and sessions like this are essential for both volunteers and their beneficiaries in the community.

pic1-upsideThe training was supported by the attendance of senior staff from the school and in particular from Dennis Vusile, Masiphumelele’s social welfare officer, who gave the opening address. While volunteers want to spend as much of their time helping children with their education it is also important to be aware of the social issues that may prevent effective learning. Dennis gave an excellent overview of the difficult situation facing many children is a highly densely populated community like Masiphumelele, where poverty is a daily fact of life. Economic and social circumstances dictate that sadly some children will suffer neglect or abuse and it is likely that volunteers will experience children in this situation at some stage.

The session continued under the guidance of experienced Masicorp volunteer Lisa Pederson, who shared her past teaching experience and work with disadvantaged children. Through a series of paper exercises volunteers became familiar with Masicorp’s own code of conduct for working with children – previously established by both volunteers and beneficiaries of Masicorp’s work in the community. It was then onto a series of role playing exercises to test out the theory.

During the role play it was quite a hard task to get into the mind of a young child suffering physical abuse in their home environment. Of course it is also a hard task to be the responsible adult that an affected child trusts enough to open up to. As Lisa advised everyone on a number of occasions, for a child to make that disclosure is one of the bravest things they will ever do. Whatever happens next the memories of that moment of finally telling a trusted adult will stay with that person for the rest of their lives. How to react appropriately and the responsibility of how to use the information was the day’s key outcome for the volunteers.

It was not an easy afternoon and the subject matter was distressing at times. It is however crucially important to for us all to be aware of these issues and be ready to act if needed. Everybody admitted at the start of the session that there had been at least one moment in their lives when they let something pass that they later wished they had acted on. When it comes to the children that Masicorp are entrusted to work with, this is something that the day’s training should prevent from happening during volunteer work.

pic2-upsideFinally we must also thank the staff of Nonny’s bakery in Masiphumelele. The bakery was established with assistance from Masicorp and provided everyone with the delicious cakes that ended the session in style.

The Sewing Café helps out Reddam House

This year Reddam House, one of Cape Town’s most well regarded private schools will be putting on a production of Peter Pan as their primary school play. This is good news for Masiphumelele because the ladies of the Sewing Café have been tasked with producing 125 costumes for the grade 1 and 3 pupils involved.

1 sewing The Sewing Café is located in a non-profit skills training centre on the edge of Masiphumelele and forms part of Masicorp’s adult education training program. The training program is managed by Athene Kannmeyer and offers 25 unemployed and unskilled members of the community the opportunity to develop their sewing skills with a view to starting their own business or joining the job market. Applicants are interviewed and can be accepted onto the one year course, which Masicorp has been able to keep free of charge.

During the course the students also learn essential English and IT skills. They start by producing an individual item of clothing as part of their own specific project. As they become more skilled there are more opportunities for commercial activities.

Recently in an attempt to increase the self sufficiency of the project the Sewing Café has launched its own website.

After already producing materials for local guest houses the project for Reddam House is their biggest commercial endeavour so far. Here is hoping for many projects to come their way in the future.

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The ‘Life Skills’ Programme

For the past 5 years, Evangeline Ministries, has run a life-skills programme, led by Wendy Ryan, for disadvantaged women who live in Masiphumelele. MASICORP helps fund this.

The women are taught to sew by trained teachers from Masi and when they graduate, each woman receives a new sewing machine which will help them to earn a living to support themselves and their families.. More than 100 women have graduated from this programme.   During the six month training period, they also have the opportunity to learn basic computer and English skills. Class days are filled with teaching and lively interaction with each other and their teachers.

Wendy and Evangeline Ministries have joined MASICORP in partnership and together we have exciting plans to extend and develop this highly successful and valuable programme.