SALESIAN INSTITUTE

Lifeline for youth put at risk by pandemic

By Shani Reddy 14 May 2020

Waves of Change Life Skills Graduation Ceremony. (Photo: Frieda Pehlivan)

Celebrating 110 years of selfless commitment to the youth of Cape Town, the Salesian Institute Youth Projects are now facing an unprecedented challenge due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Salesian Institute Youth Projects (SIYP) has been dedicated to improving the lives of Cape Town youth since 1910. The NGO provides youth with basic education, vocational training, and social skills. 

Frieda Pehlivan, communications manager of SIYP, explains:

For more than a century we [SIYP] have been providing education, shelter and emotional support for at-risk young people – a mission begun in the 19th century by Salesian order founder St John Bosco, who made it his life’s work to support children in need. It’s a mission we are living today, adapted to the unique needs of South Africa’s 21st-century young people.”

Learn to Live School of Skills Year 4 Hospitality Class 2020. (Photo: Frieda Pehlivan)

However, the organisation is facing an exceptional challenge due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The already weak state of the economy, the country’s high levels of unemployment, poverty, and inequality… we as an organisation now are faced with financial constraints to continue with our programme offering to youth from marginalised backgrounds,” says Pehlivan.

The organisation has three main projects for youth at risk in the greater Cape Town area.

The Learn to Live School of Skills education programme was designed for vulnerable and at-risk children and youth who, due to socio-economic reasons, are unable to cope in mainstream schools. The school is recognised as an independent school by the Western Cape Education Department. 

Food parcels are starting to arrive at community distribution points. (Photo: Frieda Pehlivan)

The objective of the Waves of Change programme is to empower and train disadvantaged and unemployed youth (25 to 35 years of age) in order to prepare them to find work in the maritime industry. 

Pehlivan says that “sea fishing is a large industry in South Africa, especially along the Western Cape coastline. The Salesian Institute Youth Projects realised the need for youth with very low levels of education to be gainfully employed in order to contribute towards the financial needs of their families and communities.”

The Salesian Institute Youth Projects in Green Point, Cape Town where all youth programmes are facilitated. (Photo: Frieda Pehlivan)

The Porsche PTRZ-ZA Mechatronics programme is part of the Porsche After-Sales Vocational Education (PAVE) worldwide network that “offers new opportunities to youth in the mechatronics arena. Mechatronics combines mechanical and electronic skills,” explains Pehlivan.

Pehlivan says that the aim of the programmes is to “teach critical life skills and help disadvantaged youth get back on their feet and enter the increasingly competitive job market”.

These projects are managed by a board of directors, a management committee, professionals from the corporate and education sectors and staff consisting of “Salesians” who live on the premises (located in Green Point). 

According to Pehlivan, SIYP, like many NGOs “perform crucial capacity development, humanitarian, and advocacy functions and we are an integral part of the fabric of our society.”

As with most NGOs, SIYP are dependent on grant funding and donations and both local and international funding organisations are also affected by the economic declines resulting from the pandemic.

“Covid-19 is likely to remain an ongoing threat for the foreseeable future. This situation makes us extremely vulnerable, we are already experiencing a decrease in funding, and fear funding cuts in the future,” says Pehlivan.

Pehlivan goes on to say that, “this is not the time for complacency, we will continue with smart leadership and creative fundraising efforts to prevent the downscaling of operations or staff losses. The households in the middle- and lower-class socio-economic brackets are feeling the pressure most. Many families live from paycheck to paycheck. The impact on the poor is already proving to be utterly devastating.”

The organisation’s immediate and primary concern is the welfare of their beneficiaries, which come from several communities across the Cape. 

Despite funding cuts and financial constraints, SIYD are still working to help the 26 communities they serve. 

“Our Learn to Live School learners receive three meals per day during a normal school day, as well as transport fares that enable them to travel to school and back. Some of the older students forming part of our other programmes receive daily stipends. With the lockdown, the dynamics immediately changed. The families of our beneficiaries form part of the lower-income groups in society, and therefore are struggling to make ends meet. We, therefore, started fundraising to support our beneficiaries with weekly food parcels,” says Pehlivan.

The organisation’s social worker is also on standby should there be any child welfare emergencies. Teachers keep constant contact with their learners by making welfare phone calls to all of the listed students.  

Pehlivan states that “the calls involve asking relevant questions with regards to food security and recent unemployment in the home due to lockdown as well as inquiries into any existing feeding schemes within the communities already being accessed”.

Due to the highly technical nature of the Porsche PAVE programme, students are equipped as best as possible at this point. 

“Thorough planning has gone into ensuring classes, and work delivery is being monitored through online classes and an online log in process to monitor hours worked per day. Admin and teaching staff are in daily contact with all Porsche students,” says Pehlivan. 

Unfortunately, the organisation is unable to help beneficiaries complete the relevant training needed to work in the maritime industry as the Wave of Change programme is at a standstill.

Some communities are in “hotspots”, and Pehlivan says that the organisation has “contracted the services of an authorised company that will be compiling and delivering the food parcels to designated SIYP staff living in these communities and who volunteered their services to ensure the beneficiaries in that community forming part our SIYP programmes, will receive their weekly food parcels.”

Father Pat Naughton, CEO at SIYP, says that, “We [SIYP] are appealing to civil society who we know is being bombarded with many aid requests at the moment, to please consider the work the Salesian Institute Youth Projects has been doing for over 110 years in Cape Town. Our goal to uplift and provide training and employment opportunities for youth at-risk and facilitate sustainable livelihoods is an important one.”

Pehlivan says that donations, no matter how small, go toward the “continuation of our programmes, post-lockdown, addressing youth unemployment and skills development.” South Africans can also select SIYP as a beneficiary of the MySchool Card fundraising programme. DM/MC

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