It was a first in the 28-year history of Bergzicht Training and Development as 12 beneficiaries who completed the NGO’s accredited hospitality programme, along with other guests, attended an online certificate handover  ceremony via Zoom recently.

Thanks to funding received from the Stellenbosch Municipality Mayoral Youth Skills Development Programme, Bergzicht Training and Development was able to provide 12 unemployed, unskilled and semi-skilled beneficiaries from Stellenbosch with an opportunity to complete the CATHSSETA-accredited Assistant Chef Skills Programme.

The top three students in the group, Lubabalo Mpiliso, Keenan Jooste, and Zodwa Booi, each received a set of kitchen knives and recipe books in acknowledgement of their performance.

The event was attended by Bergzicht Training and Development staff, who along with the 12 beneficiaries practiced social distancing as they held a short ceremony in person at the NGO’s offices. Other guests, which included Stellenbosch Municipality representatives such as Councillor Manie Pietersen, Portfolio Councillor: Youth, Sport and Culture; Councillor Esther Groenewald, Portfolio Councillor: Planning and Economic Development; Michelle Aalbers, Manager: Community Development, Planning and Economic Development; and Portia Jansen, Community Development Coordinator, as well as some parents joined the event via Zoom.

Pietersen thanked Bergzicht Training and Development for partnering with the municipality to equip the 12 beneficiaries with vital market-related skills.

“This type of partnership is extremely important today, especially when considering the current rate of unemployment amongst the youth in South Africa,” he said.

“Just think how difficult it would be for our youth to find jobs without this qualification and the necessary experience to enter the job market.”

Beneficiaries who completed the programme are able to work as junior kitchen assistants now.

According to Renske Minnaar, the CEO of Bergzicht Training and Development, the beneficiaries completed their three-week campus training at The Private Hotel School (PHS) in Vlottenburg. Other than this specially created programme, the NGO also partners with PHS to offer a 10-week CATHSSETA-accredited Food Service Assistant and Food and Beverage Service Programme to interested individuals who meet the NGOs training criteria.

“When the country went into lockdown on 24 March, our beneficiaries were unable to complete a 10 shift work-integrated learning opportunity at a hospitality establishment in fulfilment of our programme requirements,” said Minnaar.

“We were unable to find appropriate training partners as the hospitality sector was in lockdown, but were fortunate when Stellenbosch Unite came to the party and offered our beneficiaries the opportunity to complete their 10 shifts in the organisation’s “pop-up” soup kitchen run by Elzhan van Lamp of Ten of Cups and Hussar Grill.”

“During their practical training, the students were able to master important knife skills and apply the new protocols and practices that establishments will have to employ now to maintain optimal hygiene during this pandemic. It was the perfect training environment for them in preparation for entering a changed hospitality and tourism sector where even more stringent hygiene practices will be applied.”

Stellenbosch Unite is a collaboration between the Stellenbosch Municipality, Stellenbosch University, Visit Stellenbosch (representing civil society), the Stellenbosch Civil Advocacy Network (which represents the non-profit sector), and the Greater Stellenbosch Development Trust.

“Visit Stellenbosch is so proud of each and every student that graduated recently despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. We are thrilled that we could contribute in a small way and through our partnership with Stellenbosch Unite facilitated the opportunity for some of them to do their in-house training at Stellenbosch Unite’s production kitchen,” said Jeanneret Momberg, General Manager of Visit Stellenbosch.

The production kitchen is managed by Van Lamp, who along with a number of other Stellenbosch chefs have been producing thousands of litres of soup per week for vulnerable Stellenbosch residents since May.

Stellenbosch Unite has been providing food aid to vulnerable residents of Stellenbosch since April, by distributing either food parcels or soup.

“The soup distribution points were introduced to the food aid model of Stellenbosch Unite in the beginning of May. Since then, more than 80 000 litres of soup were prepared and over 270 000 portions were distributed.  This is a beautiful example of  what can be achieved when a town collaborates in support of fellow citizens. We are overwhelmed by the continuous, generous support of individuals and organisations in Stellenbosch,” added Momberg.

Since the beginning of lockdown, Bergzicht Training and Development has been making concerted efforts to prevent dropouts and have worked closely with donors and partners to ensure that beneficiaries have the support to remain on track with their training. They have created WhatsApp support groups that are managed by registered social worker, Nathalie Skippers, and her team, and thanks to sponsorships from longterm partners like the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the TK Foundation have been able to provide food parcels, data and smartphones (on loan) to beneficiaries most in need of data or without phones to continue their training via the NGO’s home learning system.

Speaking about his training journey at the Zoom graduation, Mpiliso said: “Instead of you guys being just our teachers, doing what you’re supposed to do [and] as your job required, you made us feel like a family. [Thanks] to the warm welcome and love and care from our facilitators and everyone that was involved in grooming us to become chefs, we were able to tap into our hidden creativity that we didn’t know we had and for that we would like to say thank you.”

According to Aalbers, Bergzicht Training and Development is one of a number of service providers who form part of a bigger programme by Stellenbosch Municipality to assist unemployed youth in the community with skills development opportunities and finding employment.

“When the beginning of lockdown was announced, I have to be honest, I thought this was the end of all the training programmes. But our training service providers pulled through and made plans to switch over to distance learning during the hard lockdown to ensure that the youth still got the required exposure and training to successfully complete their courses.”

“What touched me the most though, is that in all these courses, not one student stopped attending due to the pandemic. They were so brave and determined and I am convinced that with that kind of attitude they will be able to find employment as soon as the sector opens up again.”

Photo: Twelve beneficiaries who completed the Bergzicht Training and Development’s accredited hospitality programme, along with other guests, attended an online certificate handover ceremony via Zoom recently.