Andrew Muir, a South African conservationist is using the natural world to support young people orphaned by AIDS improve their lives, helping them to find jobs and develop life skills.
In 2006, Andrew Muir, as CEO of the Wilderness Foundation Africa, set up the Umzi Wethu (Our Home) programme to give young people, who have few prospects of employment, training and jobs in the ecotourism sector, from park rangers to chefs cooking for tourists. Umzi Wethu also provides life-skills training, wellness counselling, one-to-one mentoring and wilderness experience.
To see how someone who was so-called lost to society, or highly vulnerable and unable to enter the job market, can now earn R8,000 [US$540] or more and support their households, and even pay for themselves to do degrees and diplomas, that is rewarding.
“I knew that the only way we could make Umzi Wethu work was by creating a comprehensive and long-lasting programme,” Muir explains. “After all, the vulnerability of these orphans has generally been 18 years in the making and will need something pretty intense and all-embracing to turn it around.”
Three hundred young people have graduated from the 50-week course at Umzi’s three academies. Of the graduates, 92 per cent are in jobs and 85 per cent still hold those or higher-ranking jobs a year later. Muir has now created a sister programme, the Umzi Wethu Siyazenzela, designed to help much bigger numbers of young people in a non-residential programme lasting 16 weeks and including “job-readiness and life-skills” components similar to Umzi Wethu. About 300 students are accepted into Siyazenzela each year.
Percentage of youth attending Umzi Wethu who were orphaned because of AIDS
Percentage of graduates from Muir’s academies who have made the successful transition into employment