After being unemployed for seven years, Nontuthuzelo Nqumana, 33, from Kayamandi in Stellenbosch was encouraged by her mom to improve her employability by registering for a few courses and programmes at Bergzicht Training and Development. Little did she know that upon completing the iPOWER (Self-Empowering) Foundation Programme (previously Home Management), she would immediately be employed as a cook, cleaner and waitress at Bon Esperance Guest Lodge in Stellenbosch, ending years of work application rejections.

Sitting in the beautifully decorated guest dining area of the lodge with light streaming in from the afternoon sun, Nontuthuzelo, or Mientjie as some call her, smiles as she talks about how her life has changed.

“I was unemployed for a long time before I started working here and spent a lot of my time volunteering at a crèche in Kayamandi after I failed matric in 2007,” says Nontuthuzelo.

A year earlier, she lost her first born, a young boy who was born with birth defects that caused breathing difficulties which led to his death.

“He was on a ventilator for three days, but when they took him off the machine, he died. It was a difficult time for me as I was home, unemployed and struggling with this tragedy. My boyfriend, who is now my husband, was working far from home and while he tried to support me by speaking to me on the telephone as often as he could, he was not here physically. I struggled with the loss of my son and being unemployed made it harder.”

Even while facing the loss of a child, Nontuthuzelo made an effort to find work.

“For many years I dropped my CV at Pick n Pay and Checkers, anywhere I could think of, but I never got a job.”

“I don’t know what kept me going really, because I spent such a long time sitting at home, thinking about my life. I was lucky, because my mother was always there for me and she was the one who said to me ‘you can’t lose hope my child, you can live in my house until you are 50, but you will find a job’. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would be here today.”

In 2014, Nontuthuzelo went to Bergzicht Training and Development on the advice of her mother, who is also an alumnus of the non-governmental organisation and was able to find work after studying with the organisation. By then, she was also the proud mother of two boys, one of four years old and another who was only a few months old.

“My life changed the day I went to Bergzicht Training and Development.”

After completing the Life Skills course as well as the iPOWER Programme, Nontuthuzelo stayed home for three weeks while waiting for the Edu Care Programme to start.

“I was working as a volunteer at a crèche and I was automatically interested in Educare. But when I got the call from Bergzicht Training and Development to tell me that there was a job opportunity that I could be interviewed for, I said yes immediately. I really wanted to work at that point as I was tired of sitting at home, but also because I wanted to provide for my kids.”

On the day she so impressed the owners at Bon Esperance that she was offered a job on the spot.

“I started my job that Monday. I remember I was very happy and on that first morning I told my boss that it had been a long time since I had worked and that I was happy that he had found me and was willing to do whatever was needed to make a success of the opportunity.”

As she looks around the room, she says: “I never thought that I would be able to do waitressing work, but working here has helped me to improve my communication skills and to learn how to handle all kinds of people. You must be ready to work with friendly and with difficult customers.”

Except her waitressing duties, she also cooks breakfast and helps with cleaning the guests’ rooms.

Her studies at Bergzicht Training and Development, she says, prepared her for the realities of working in a guest lodge, whether it was through tips on how to make a bed properly in the hospitality industry or how to serve food.

“I have been at Bon Esperance for two years and this job has helped me a lot. Now that my mother has stopped working due to her health, I can look after her and buy her the medicines she needs. I have also been able to save money for a house and now we have our own home.”

Photo: Nontuthuzelo Nqumana has faced years of unemployment and the loss of her firstborn son, but in spite of these hardships have used the skills she obtained through Bergzicht Training and Development’s iPOWER (Self-Empowering) Foundation Programme to create a different future for herself, her husband and children.