14 December 2015
|The December 2015 graduating classes from the Vocational Skills Training Centres (VST) at (Left) Arrupe and (Right) Loyola, based in Johannesburg and Pretoria respectively. (Gushwell F.Brooks/Jesuit Refugee Service)|
|“This graduation is not the end, but the beginning. Take your skills and it is up to you to make something of it. As women, we tend to forget we are destined for greater things. Take the business start-up kits you receive for graduating and do something for yourself!”|
Johannesburg, 4 December 2015 and Pretoria, 10 December 2015 – The Vocational Skills Training Centres (VST) at Arrupe and Loyola, based in Johannesburg and Pretoria respectively, ended the year with two stylish graduation ceremonies. The ladies from both classes, the final class of 2015, designed, sewed and wore their beautiful outfits to the graduation ceremonies and exuded nothing but well deserved pride at their creations.
Nathalie Kamwanya, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), speaking on behalf of the students of Arrupe summed it up well: “Today, is a day of celebration for all these beautiful women gathered here. We take this opportunity to thank Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Tereda van Heerden [Manager of both the Arrupe and Loyola VST Centres] and our teachers.”
Mutapay Kembi, from DRC, at the Loyola graduation, expressed similar sentiments: “Thank you JRS for this empowering programme. You gave us something more valuable than money, you gave us skills!” The importance of the programme was re-emphasised by Kamwanya: “We came empty handed, eager to learn and this skills training has changed our lives. You change the lives of women, we are able to reach our potential because of this programme.”
Adebayo Abosede Olabode, from Nigeria, who was part of the Loyola December graduating class, elaborates on why this is such an important programme for the women involved: “A lot of people are there, outside, with nothing. As women many of us have no skills, but JRS has changed this, it has given us opportunity.” The opportunities presented through the JRS’s VST programmes are far-reaching, as Ngogo Kanyaka, a refugee from the DRC and Arrupe graduate explains: “What we have learnt can help us start our own businesses, we employ other people, pay for our sons’ and daughters’ school and university fees and contribute to the household income. Let us embrace women empowerment!”
The VST programmes at Loyola and Arrupe are designed to impart skills that will enable its graduates to start small businesses that will help secure livelihoods for themselves and their family members as well as others they may employ. These are basic yet essential skills such as baking, sewing and dressmaking, beading and basic computer skills for the graduates that leave the – on average – three month training programme.
JRS through its experience has learnt that it is all too often difficult for refugees and asylum seekers to obtain gainful employment in their host countries. Poor skills, language and cultural barriers as well as xenophobia leave many unable to exit a cycle of poverty. The VST programmes JRS offers does not guarantee participants a secure financial future as a matter of course but it gives them options.
Father David Holdcroft SJ, JRS Southern Africa, Regional Director, spoke at the Arrupe graduation and made this point absolutely clear, whilst providing inspiration and encouragement to the graduates. He started by expressing his gratitude to the students: “You didn’t know us, but took a chance and trusted us with your lives.” He then went on to encourage the graduates with what lay ahead: “What now? Graduating from this programme will not get you resettled, it won’t necessarily make you rich and your life will continue with all the same challenges. However, you wanted more for your life; that is why you spent your time with us. What we learn from this programme is that if we people help each other, we grow together and we can make a better life for each other. Therefore I ask you, with these skills you trusted us to share with you, to help us build South Africa for everyone!”
At the same graduation, Johan Viljoen, JRS South Africa, Country Director, inspired by the words of Pope Francis, reminded the ladies: “No one is a stranger, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.” The programme director of the Loyola graduation and baking teacher at Arrupe Centre, Julie Chiondegwa, highlighted the social cohesion benefit of the programme: “This is not just a skills training programme, but a cultural exchange!”
Both graduation ceremonies were celebrated with proud jubilation and song. What set the Loyola graduation apart though, was the fact that the first group of four males, participated in the programme and graduated.
However Vuyo Mcimeli, JRS South Africa, Country Finance Officer, left the ladies of the Loyola graduating class with strong encouragement: “This graduation is not the end, but the beginning. Take your skills and it is up to you to make something of it. As women, we tend to forget we are destined for greater things. Take the business start-up kits you receive for graduating and do something for yourself!”
Click here to see the video of the December 2015 graduating classes from Arrupe and Loyola celebrate their accolades with song and dance.
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