Today was definitely a day to remember. We visited the Amy Foundation, named for Amy Biehl.
In 1994, Amy, a Stanford graduate, was in South Africa working on her Fulbright and as an anti-Apartheid activist. One evening, the 26-year old insisted on driving some of her friends home who lived in a township (areas outside the city designated as districts for black South Africans; typically very poor). She was to return to the United States in two days. After dropping off her friends that night, she was forced from her car and stoned to death on the side of the street by a group of political activists from the township.
Amy would not survive, but her mother and father came to South Africa to meet with the families of the perpetrators and figure out how they could carry on Amy’s work and passion for social justice. They decided to start the Amy Foundation, which began as an after-school program for school-aged children in the townships. After they had served 5-year sentences in prison, the four young mean who killed Amy made a plea in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for amnesty. Amy’s parents supported that plea and went on to hire two of the four young men at the foundation.
Today, the Amy Foundation provides an after-school enrichment program that includes programming on Saturdays and school holidays at 5 locations. The “learners” are able to go on field trips and camps through the program. They also added a program for young adults facing unemployment. Students learn how to compile a CV (resume), receive extensive training in one of three tracks (hospitality, arts & crafts, or beauty and wellness).
In addition to providing them with a certification, the hospitality program matches trainees with a prestigious hotel for a 1 month internship. The hotel benefits by receiving quality candidates from which to hire and the young adult likely will receive a job at the internship, but at least graduates the program with marketable skills, a respected certification, a CV, and a prestigious internship. The foundation has a beautiful model commercial kitchen and bistro! The chefs and servers in training made us a delicious lunch.
The arts & crafts program teaches beading and sewing. Students sell their handiwork and save up to buy a sewing machine of their own with help from the foundation. Students are able to gain work as tailors in the local department stores and often are able to start their own businesses after a few years of experience. Our group was impressed with their wares and purchased several items from these women and man directly from their sewing room. They have more students, but due to space limitations and funding, they can only offer sewing instruction two days per week and often have to use other spaces throughout the foundation offices to have enough work space.
The last track, beauty and wellness, partners with a local beauty services salon. Students take modules on nails, massage, waxing, and facials. As each module is complete, students are able to begin working in that field in an actual salon. They have a salon set up at the foundation, where students offer reduced-rate services as they learn their craft. With each module, they can go to work for the partner beauty salon that charges full prices (comparable to the U.S.!).
All of these courses are offered for free and the foundation provides transportation to and from students’ homes to the foundation. The beauty students weren’t present today, but the crafts and hospitality students all included alumni of the program who come back to help new students on their days off and consider the Amy Foundation home.
After touring the impressive facilities, we visited one of the after-school programs. They are housed in classrooms of local public schools. Students of all ages can take courses in health and environment, music, dance, reading skills, sports, and HIV/AIDS peer education. Upon arriving at the public primary school for this particular program, we were met by cute kids waving at us. One little girl ran up and gave me a huge hug! Another mouthed to me, “What is your name?” and I asked her hers in return. They were gracious hosts and performed their dances and songs for us in those respective classes.