When General Manager of TVET SA, Natasha Antha, shared her vision with our team to implement a social upliftment project at Pollsmoor prison the response was an overwhelming “Of course we can!”
Social Upliftment through Skills Development
Social upliftment is at the core of Thandeka Vocational Education Trust (Pty) Ltd and we place a significant focus on the training of unemployed youth with the view to empowering and enabling them to become economically active citizens.
Thandeka Vocational Trust (Pty) Ltd partnered with the Department of Correctional Services to get the project off the ground.
We had to overcome some barriers to get the social upliftment project of the ground amidst the national COVID-19 lockdown. But we managed to register 21 learners from the men’s and women’s sections at Pollsmoor Prison with the FP&M SETA. The TVET SA Sewing Skills Programme commenced at the end of 2020 at Pollsmoor Prison.
A man with a heart for social justice
Charles Wyngaard, experienced TVET SA Skills Development Practitioner, facilitated the programme at the prison. Charles is a dedicated learner coach and mentor, and devoted humanitarian.
The Department of Correctional Services in the Western Cape provided support throughout this social upliftment initiative by removing some of the barriers along the way.
The learners’ enthusiasm towards this project made a profound impact on Charles. Their commitment to overcome some significant educational and social barriers to see the programme through to the end overwhelmed him.
Social upliftment – enabling individuals to grow and develop
Thinking back on the programme, Charles said that this social upliftment initiative left deep impressions on his heart. And it taught him to consider life from a different perspective.
“One of the deepest impressions on my heart is probably that the learners enrolled on the programme, without exception, exhibited a deep regret for the crimes they have committed.
All the participants expressed a desire to transform and improve their lives with the goal of returning to society. And I think this project has provided them with that opportunity to recognise and expand their own capabilities”.
Training at the correctional services facility raised a deep awareness of what really being “locked down” meant. The conditions that the offenders in prison had to face daily were very tough.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, visitations to the prison were stopped. Although they were able to reach out to their families telephonically, they were unable to see their family and friends. This impacted severely on their morale.
The Sewing Skills Programme was tailor-made to address the specific skills needs of the learners. It comprised a sewing skills training module (theory and practical) as well as modules relating to “Communicating in English”. The purpose was to teach the learners practical skills that could be applied while they were incarcerated in prison or once released from prison. It also provided them and opportunity to improve their written and spoken English language skills.
The learners’ hunger to learn skills that would help them to make new start, inspired Charles throughout the project.
Partnering with the Department of Correctional Services
Some challenges were experienced with regards to the supply of suitable sewing machines to train the learners on. However, the Education Department stepped in and made available domestic sewing machines for the programme to continue. Charles had high praise for the manager of the Education Department, Mr Paul van der Merwe. “Mr van der Merwe has a sincere passion for the social upliftment of offenders through skills development. And he wants to improve their prospects on a successful return to society.
It is difficult to plan and implement skills development in a prison environment. Learners are enrolled on a programme and during that time they could be transferred to other prisons or be released on parole and therefore they are unable to complete their programmes.
During the first half of the TVET SA Sewing Skills Programme, learner numbers reduced from 21 to 15 due to learners being released on parole.
Sometimes sections of the prison are place under lockdown due to incidents and learners miss out on training sessions.
Charles reflected that the prison is an extremely difficult and challenging environment to successfully implement training. Yet to him it was such a wonderful opportunity to engage with people who desperately want to transform and make a difference in their lives.
What the learners had to say
When asked what they liked about the programme, the learners commented as follows:
Everything is interesting thus far. We have a fantastic facilitator who explains everything thoroughly. So far, this programme is enjoyable.
(I enjoy) everything because I’m learning every day.
I never expected to learn that there are so many different types of materials/fabric. I’ve learned that you have to have a relationship to understand for everything to go smooth.
(I like) the fact that the course is so informative, and easy to understand. (It was) being presented very skilfully and professionally. I liked the interaction between the facilitator and the participants.
I’ve learned about content and context. I’ve also learned about different types of fabric and how to lay out the pattern pieces. It was fun to learn all of this stuff that was new to me.
I loved every session of this course. I appreciate getting the opportunity to learn a skill like this.
The course is encouraging. I can’t wait to do what I learnt in my community.
Charles holds great admiration for the learners who persevered despite their circumstances. “Life in prison is not easy and some of the experiences they shared with I would not wish on anyone. All I can say to people and especially to our youth, is that prison is not the place you want to end up! It is a very tough environment. When your liberties and freedom are taken away, then you begin to realise the big challenge of what you are up against. Do not take your freedom and liberties for granted.”
The theory and practical components of the programme successfully completed in April 2021. The learners are currently undergoing workplace experience in the textile workshops. The aim is that placement will be provided for these learners in the manufacturing facility where they manufacture prison uniforms for both the men’s and the women’s prisons.
Thandeka Vocational Education Trust (Pty) Ltd is already investigating future opportunities to collaborate with the Department of Correctional as we aim to further increase the impact of our social upliftment initiatives.