Empowering Cape Town’s Youth: The Amy Foundation

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BOSTON, Massachusetts — Based in Cape Town, South Africa, the Amy Foundation is a non-profit organization aiming to provide the city’s underprivileged youth with enrichment and vocational opportunities.

The foundation is named after Amy Biehl, an American student killed in an act of racially motivated mob violence while in South Africa to protest and organize against Apartheid in 1993. After five years behind bars, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission granted Amy’s killers amnesty. Amy’s parents, Peter and Linda Biehl, supported this move. They expressed their forgiveness during the commission’s proceedings. Amy’s parents later established the foundation with the goal of preventing youth violence and uplifting economically disadvantaged communities in Cape Town, a mission that continues to drive the foundation’s work.

“Educate, develop and empower”

Kevin Chaplin is the current managing director of the Amy Foundation. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Chaplin said that through its programs, the Amy Foundation aims to offer Cape Town children a positive environment that cultivates “emotionally well-rounded, contributing citizens.”

“In South Africa, over 50% of children who start grade one drop out of school before writing their final year of school, over 2,000 young girls become pregnant every year. And you have youngsters getting into gangs,” Chaplin said. “So, the Amy Foundation tries to take youngsters out of that environment and to give them an opportunity.”

Enacting Its Aims

In pursuit of its mission, the Amy Foundation focuses its efforts on three cohorts. For five to 18-year-olds, the organization offers after-school programs to expand on childrens’ in-school education, which Chaplin said is often lacking due to a combination of classroom overcrowding and under-trained teachers.

A second focus of the organization is vocational training for 18 to 35-year-olds. With programs in sewing, craftsmanship, design, hospitality and entrepreneurship, among others, the non-profit hopes to offer this younger demographic an opportunity to develop employable skills. According to Chaplin, 853 students have found jobs through the Foundation since 2016. Moving forward, the Amy Foundation hopes to expand its vocational skills training to the younger 15 through 18-year-old cohort.

Adapting in the Face of COVID-19

When the pandemic first hit South Africa in March, it forced a temporary cancellation of all in-person programming. As a result, the non-profit opted to shift its focus to feeding the community, according to Chaplin. Twice a week, the foundation would serve cooked meals and fruit to surrounding communities, feeding about 1,500 children and adults at each event.

By May, the organization was able to get several of its programs up and running in the remote format. The foundation started offering virtual lessons over Zoom and WhatsApp in the subjects that it normally teaches. These subjects range from soccer and an array of dance and music genres to more academically-oriented “Life Skills” and “Literacy” classes among other programs. Despite a lack of access to smartphones and data presenting a barrier for a significant number of students, the foundation was able to reach more than half of its students through this remote format.

Changing Outcomes during the Pandemic

Near the end of the summer, the Amy Foundation began to slowly ramp up its in-person programming. By September, it was once again offering on-site courses in all of its disciplines, albeit with restrictions in hours and limits in attendance. While the initial lockdown and social-distancing restrictions set the Amy Foundation short of its 2020 targets, the non-profit’s recent newsletter makes note of a silver lining that the forced recent shift to an online format brought about.

The “embracing” of technology and other off-site interventions during the pandemic, according to the newsletter, has the organization’s leaders hopeful that they will be able to scale up the organization’s programs significantly moving forward. Though Chaplin noted that limited internet access in townships will continue to present an obstacle, outreach and engagement efforts still work to connect more children to the Foundation’s programs and bridge gaps.

Coalter B. Palmer
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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