YOUTH VOICE: Interview with Sihle Ma-Awu, employee of the YearBeyond Programme and tertiary student

Youth Capital releases an annual publication that combines data with young people’s lived stories to shift gears on youth unemployment. The 2021 publication, Unlock Jobs: Clearing Roadblocks to Youth Employment aimed to answer a question. The questions were about how to start clearing the roadblocks on young people’s journey to quality work. To do that, they spoke to several voices from their network. These interviews are published below. 



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Interview with Sihle Ma-Awu, ex-YeBoneer, now employee of the YearBeyond Programme and tertiary student

Before YearBeyond, what were some of the challenges you faced when looking for work?

I was brought up by my gran and lived with her from a young age. Once my mom got married, my gran became an even more important parental figure in my life. She was amazing and encouraged me to do my schoolwork. I matriculated with a good matric, and had great dreams of becoming involved in science. That is why I elected to study biotechnology at the University of the Western Cape. However, it was much harder than I thought. I needed money and could not sustain my studies. At that point the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) process was a lot more complicated. I just couldn’t see a way forward. So eventually I dropped out and joined the ranks of the unemployed.

Soon after my  girlfriend at the time fell pregnant, and I needed to step up and provide for her. I really struggled to find work and earn an income as I lacked experience and networks. I worked through employment agencies to find anything, as I needed to support my child and her mother. Eventually I got a job in retail. But I did not feel my life was progressing. My life lacked meaning and direction. I kept wanting more.

What skills did you acquire during the programme?

I hardly know my dad. In-fact, I have only met him once, and I did not want my daughter to experience the same absence. YearBeyond has helped me as a parent. I learnt how to talk to children, how to read to children, how to create magic with children. I have used these skills with my daughter, Lunathi, and with my two sisters who are 11 and 13.

The programme has not only helped me as a dad but it helped me to get to know myself. Through the personal and professional development training, I learnt to take responsibility and face my challenges head on. I acquired a lot of soft skills around mindfulness and leadership. I was also in an environment where I was exposed to and developed a passion for capacity building and facilitation, something I had never thought of as a career before.

How did your connections/social circle grow as a result of the programme?

I developed four kinds of networks as a result of YearBeyond. Firstly, I was placed in a school group of five people and built a very strong peer team whom I worked with on a daily basis; peers that I could depend on for support. Secondly, I built a larger peer group of youth as I was exposed to almost a hundred youth in the programme who I connected with in a space of growth and learning. Thirdly, as the programme provides each young person with a mentor who is dedicated to support you in your journey, I gained another mentor in my life. I have remained connected to my mentor in a way that I could have never imagined. Finally, through the programme I was exposed to a range of NGOs, government officials, and other people who have all helped me develop and grow.

Did the programme equip you to pursue your next opportunity?

A year is a short time to get back on your feet when you have fallen. Thanks to the programme I secured an internship post my year. This was the next stepping-stone in my journey. It enabled me to confirm that I wanted to work in the community development field and commit to registering for a Bachelor of Arts in Community Development with UNISA. The internship led to me securing my job as a Capacity Building Project Assistant. I know that in five years’ time I will have completed my studies and will be giving back in the community development sector as a leader. It has been an amazing journey.

What was the experience of the other young people in your cohort? Where are they now?  

Of my school group of 5, one peer, Asithandile is working in marketing at FunDza and he is also studying at UNISA. Like me, he started off getting an internship there which has kick-started his process. Two of the other team members are also studying. Nobulali is at CPUT studying Human Resource Management and Vuyiseka is at False Bay College studying Early Childhood Development. The last member is currently working at Medipost Pharmacy.  

So we have all progressed. Because I now work with the programme, I know that our stories are not unique. Over 80% of participants progress to studies or work. The programme really takes both beneficiaries – the youth and the learners – seriously. Every YeBoneer is supported to pursue at least three post-programme opportunities. More recently, we have developed this support even further and we now offer access to career advice technology, links to employers, and links to bursaries. As one of our YeBoneers last year commented – you can’t leave the programme and say you don’t know what you want to do.

My advice to other young people who are thinking about their future: grab any opportunity that opens doors, always show up and do your best, connect with people, and never forget you are the custodian of your brand.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.

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