Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

Ekupholeni Mental Health and Trauma Centre

Our Kickstart project for youth

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Employment/education opportunities for particularly vulnerable groups | 25 January, 2013 - 04:36


The Katorus township community on the industrial East Rand of Johannesburg is large, cut-off from the main commercial centres and has been riddled by extreme violence for decades. This township conglomerate is home to nearly 2.5 million people. Katorus is characterised by high levels of poverty, crime, violence, HIV/AIDS, sexual abuse, domestic violence, gang activity, teenage pregnancy, school absenteeism/drop-out, alcohol and substance abuse. Members of the community cannot help but be affected by these serious challenges. The children and young people are most affected.  

Ekupholeni Mental Health and Trauma Centre provide holistic psychosocial support focusing on youth at risk, gender violence, HIV/AIDS and bereavement. Because of the chronic poverty suffered by our clients we also implement an economic empowerment intervention offering skills development, job placement and small business establishment.

Psycho-social counselling and crisis management has turned out to be insufficient to sustain the pro-social behaviour of many of the young people that we work with after therapy has ended.  Many of them can see alternatives to criminal or anti-social behaviour at an intellectual and theoretical level, but struggle to put such alternatives into action without on-going support. Mostly they need an income to disassociate successfully from dysfunctional families, gangs, and violent surroundings. But at the same time many of them have learning disabilities or are orphans and have no means to get an education or training that will lead to a job and an income. Their parents and families have also never or very rarely been consistent bread-winners, so they cannot assist with advice on job seeking, CV preparation, interview conduct or work ethic. Neither do they have the knowledge and means to find out about studies, skills training, or bursaries, nor the finances to pay for a course. In addition, many of the youth have learning problems, mostly due to lack of stimulation in early childhood combined with neglect and missing months and years of schooling.  Through our work with them we hope to achieve the following:

  • That they will become self-reliant 
  • That they will have future prospects
  • That they will stay out of prisons
  • That they will be responsible members of the community
  • That they will be role models in their families, community and nationally
  • That they will be assisting their families with their material needs
  • That they will assist their siblings with their academic needs
  • That they will mentor other young people who are still battling with the challenges that  the former has dealt with

Our strategy: 

Children, youth, and sometimes their parents come to Ekupholeni for critical emotional and social support. We are usually the last port of call. Many of our clients are youth who have lost one or both parents, who have dropped out of school, are involved in criminal activity or display such severe behaviour problems that neither schools nor parents still want them around. At Ekupholeni we engage them in individual and group therapy processes as well as sports which is offered three days a week in addition to counselling.  The sport activities draw them in and encourage discipline, routine, team work, temper management, and negotiation skills.  All these skills will be necessary for them to function in society, to study further, or to find and retain employment.However, this is not enough. We also conduct home and school visits, place children and youth back at school if feasible and assist with family dispute resolution.  The more severely behaviour disordered youth and the orphans are integrated into long-term group therapy groups.  

The Kickstart Program was designed to be a bridging program to ease the young people who had successfully completed the therapy component into a sustainable and pro-social life, including skills to sustain themselves in dignity without having to fall under the spell of gangs or Sugar Daddies. Through the programme youth complete individual skills and aptitude assessments and then make a selection of an appropriate course of study or skills training with the help of our Economic Empowerment Officer and the Social Worker. We guide the process and then also negotiate course costs, discounts, possible family contributions, transport arrangements, check-ups, etc. The young person is then expected to attend that chosen course, complete with good results, seek and secure a job, and earn a sustaining income that provides personal pride, dignity and a barrier and buffer against falling in with the “bad crowd” again. This, we hope, will also have a role-model-effect on other youth in the same community.

Ekupholeni has excellent links to various local skills training centres, colleges, as well as the University of Johannesburg.  These institutions know that our youth have been counselled and screened carefully and attend regular feedback meetings with the social worker. This means fewer drop-outs, and a solid referral opportunity should a young person hit difficulties or struggle with learning, or fail to attend.  This has also led to significantly reduced fees for our clients.  The university assists us with bursary applications for our orphaned matriculants who have shown good results at school but have no financial means whatsoever.  

How the programme is implemented 

  • First the Economic Empowerment Officer (EEO) and Social Worker (SW) responsible for the program gather sufficient background information on the clients (young people) needing assistance. This entails gathering information from the case managers, auxiliary social workers and the soccer coach as well as the young person’s file. This helps in assessing the suitability of the referred clients for either study or skills training (e.g. carpentry, brick-laying, office admin, computer course, welding, mechanics, etc.)
  • The EEO then check with the SW and the case manager whether the client can deal with the pressure of studying, has the ability to do training that requires physical competency, how much family support does the client have or require. Does the family have financial means to assist with a contribution to the course fee or transport fee. 
  • The clients are then assessed based on the assistance that they need or request, i.e. those who want to apply for tertiary education: Do they meet the minimum entrance requirements of the institution?  Do the clients who want to do vocational skills training have the basic reading and calculation skills? Do clients who want to be assisted with job placement know how to prepare a CV? Do they know what will be expected of them by educational institutions and potential employers?
  • We prepare more than one alternative for the client just in case the client does not fulfil the criteria of the course he/she is requesting to be assisted with.
  • The client, case manager and EEO then define what goals must be achieved by when. Regular feedback meetings are scheduled.  For many skills training candidates this goes hand-in hand with the exchange of the weekly train ticket, which ensures attendance.
  • Regular monitoring has resulted in Ekupholeni knowing the progress of each assisted client: For the current year, 30 of our youth clients are attending skills and vocational training courses and 21 attend tertiary institutions such as colleges, technical institutions and universities. Only 2 dropped out due to pregnancy, but one of them has meanwhile resumed her studies.
  • When we assist a client, we try to involve the whole family for support and to ensure that they have clear expectations.
  • When the young person has completed the course/training, we assist with job-seeking workshops to enable CV compilation, job finding, and interview conduct.   Regular reality checks are important.

Case Study: Anthony Mashaba was assisted to do the carpentry course at St. Anthony’s Skills Training Center. He then got himself a job and now supports his family. He also managed to get his sister, Theressa Mashaba, enrolled at UNISA. He pays for her study fees but requested if we could support her with books. 

Advice to other psycho-social support programmes who would like to implement a similar programme

  • The programme must be focussed on a particular target group within the regular beneficiaries of the organisation. This will help in controlling and monitoring of resources of the organisation, as well as ensuring that each candidate is emotionally stable enough to pursue training or studies.
  • The organisation has to be careful not to end up diverting from its original focus, Kickstart can take up a lot of time and human resources.
  • Allocate the coordinating responsibility for the programme to someone who has a clear understanding of the programme and the intended outcomes. It is very easy to waste resources on this programme. The organisation should do detailed assessments before assisting with study/training fees.
  • The programme coordinator must have some level of tertiary education. He/she must know the lifestyle, culture and challenges that the clients might face when enrolling to these institutions.
  • The programme coordinator must be able to negotiate for discounts that institutions might be offering.
  • The programme coordinator must regularly check information online, in newspapers, on television and from people who might have information about learnerships, bursaries, job opportunities, such as the Department of Labour and the Department of Education. 
  • The programme coordinator must be available at all times during office hours when clients need him/her. This is very important, especially for clients who have no one else to rely on when the feel the pressure of their studies, bearing in mind that some clients don’t have parents, guardians, or mentors who will support and motivate them when they feel like giving up. This also illustrates that the process is long-term, ongoing, and requires a good deal of social work/counselling related skills.
  • The programme coordinator must make regular follow-ups with the clients. When clients are quiet and not complaining that doesn’t mean they are coping.
  • The programme coordinator must have a close relationship with the institutions where the clients are registered for study or training. The lecturers / trainers / administrators can help in keeping an eye on the clients and notify the organisation when they identify problems.
  • The organisation must hold regular meetings with the institutions to compare notes on the progress of the clients.
  • The organisation must devise some monitoring tool for their clients such as monthly meetings with clients, requesting performance reports, buying weekly or monthly train tickets and checking if the ticket for last month has been clipped by the ticket examiner.      
  • This may sound like baby-sitting, but is essential if success is aimed for.  Independence develops out of a state of dependence with sufficient support. They need to walk before they can fly, and we are there to give the confidence and to train their wings. 


Natalspruit Hospital, Katlehong 1431

 011 6489820


In Short

Ekupholeni Mental Health and Trauma Centre provides holistic psychosocial support focusing on youth at risk, gender violence, HIV/AIDS and bereavement in the Katorus township community on the industrial East Rand of Johannesburg.  As part of their programmatic offering they are also implementing an economic empowerment intervention called Kickstart for the youth that they counsel. In this learning brief they discuss their aims for the programme, explains exactly how it is implemented and gives advice to other pyschosocial support programmes that would like to implement a similar programme.

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