Using arts and creativity to promote skills and well-being
South Africa: LWF supports Outreach Foundation’s goal to instill community skills and self-confidence
(LWI) - When she sees a brick, cement and sand, Makhatutu Siimane imagines “people in nice homes and places, and building my own house—a big, nice one.” At 34, she wants to start her own business in the building and maintenance sector— “anything related to bricklaying and plastering, and I would like to study civil engineering,” she says.
Growing up in Lesotho, Siimane always had a passion for the outdoors and creating things with her own hands, and it was no coincidence that she studied woodwork at school. After moving to South Africa with her family and settling in Hillbrow, the inner city of the country’s economic capital Johannesburg, she was determined to pursue her dream. This is where she learned about the Outreach Foundation, a not-for-profit organization using artistic expression to help young men, women and school-age children to gain new skills, build self-esteem and self-confidence. She first enrolled for a computer course in 2017 followed by a bricklaying course in early 2020.
“Being the only woman in my bricklaying class was not the only challenge I had to deal with,” in a field traditionally considered male, Siimane recalls. “Some of the men were experienced bricklayers and often said that I would fail, that a lady cannot build.” Her determination paid off and she graduated in July this year.
The bricklaying course has shown me just how strong I am. I don’t have to depend on anyone.
Outreach Foundation has helped Siimane discover her “strength and capabilities, which will really make a difference” for her and her family. It is “an incredibly good place for people who are disadvantaged or don’t know where to go or what to do,” she says. Today when she looks at buildings in Johannesburg, she feels “inspired to be like those builders, and even more even though I am a lady.” The bricklaying course, she adds, “has shown me just how strong I am. I don’t have to depend on anyone.”
The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has been supporting the Outreach Foundation since 2018. Established in 2004 as a Lutheran Community foundation, the organization is associated with the Northeastern Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa (NELCSA).
Learning patience through volunteering
Others like 20-year-old Joseph Beya, a computer skills instructor at Outreach Foundation, have learnt the value of volunteering. The sports fan and clothing designer with his own brand, first took a three-month leadership course in 2019, after which he volunteered at the foundation’s youth center for a few months. Inspired by the “spirit of family and the professional, kind and loving manner in which things are done at the organization,” he wanted to do more. He took up the computer course, and now teaches basic computer skills to adults.
Joseph Beya in a computer instruction room. Photo: Outreach Foundation
Beya talks about the organization’s impact. “I have changed since being here. I used to be a very impatient person but teaching adults how to use computers has taught me patience,” he says. Skills from the leadership course have come in handy. “We used to have debates, and I had to learn that if I disagree with how you think, I shouldn’t fight with you but try to understand where you are coming from,” he adds.
He has some advice for school leavers and other young people, who see non-remunerated work as a waste of time. “Volunteering is beneficial for you and others. You get to know your weaknesses, flaws and strengths. You meet new people, learn a lot, and get the work experience you need to get a job later.”
Beya is not yet done with training at Outreach Foundation. “Knowing how to sew is on my agenda, especially since I have my own brand. And since I love food, the cooking course,” he adds.
His idea of success “is to be able to live a comfortable life and help others while I’m at it.” Beya wants to see his brand grow and establish an organization that will help people who cannot afford education and others who are “looking to transition from school to the big wide working world,” he adds.
At Outreach Foundation, young volunteers support school children with school work. Photo: Outreach Foundation
School drama festivals
Siimane and Beya are among hundreds of people who have benefitted from the community-targeted programs that the Outreach Foundation offers in a country with an unemployment rate of 27.6 percent. More than 450 learners for instance, were involved in the Inner-City High School Drama Festival in 2019, which offers lessons in drama, dance and play production. In another program, 80 mostly unemployed women, gained sewing and craft skills aimed at setting up their own small-scale businesses.
According to the foundation’s executive director Robert Michel, most of the activities are structured in a way that enables participants to connect with people who they would not ordinarily encounter. “It also gives them space to open up to self-expression, improve their self-esteem and self-confidence.”
NELCSA Bishop Horst Müller describes Outreach Foundation as “an oasis in Hillbrow,” with “glimpses of the past glory” of what used to be the center of a growing city and economy of South Africa. “It is wonderful that in the midst of all this, there is a place where people receive help and courage to move into the future. The stories above represent those of many others who too did not only learn skills, but gained a sense of dignity, which enabled them to move forward, stand on their own feet and become a blessing for others.”
The support received through the LWF “indeed bears much fruit,” Müller concludes.
A young woman sewing handicraft at the Outreach Foundation. Photo: Outreach Foundation
By Chantal Meugens, editing by LWF Communications
Through a diverse range of projects including livelihood initiatives, women’s and youth empowerment and theological training, the LWF supports its member churches and their partner community-based organizations to provide hands-on solutions to pressing needs. in their congregations and wider community. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America provides funding to the Outreach Foundation.