Umzi Wethu – Nature, Nurture, Future

An initiative of The WILD Foundation & Wilderness Foundation

Umzi Wethu is a holistic approach to conservation and job creation, enabling social, economic and spiritual transformation for young South Africans who are currently experiencing endemic poverty, orphan hood and high vulnerability often as a consequence of the HIV AIDS pandemic affecting Southern Africa. It has been pioneered in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape”  -Andrew Muir, Wilderness Foundation (Africa)

> OXFAM recognizes the Umzi Wethu Training Academy for Vulnerable Youth as “An Extraordinary Journey”

Working with our closest partner, the Wilderness Foundation (Africa), we’ve pioneered a pilot project to address the dangerous and escalating crisis of youth orphaned by the AIDS crisis and related social disruptions. The program is gathering steam quickly, and provincial and national governments are noticing. The Premier of the Eastern Cape, Mrs Nosimo Balindlela, is the Patron of the project and our goal is to create a model that can be implemented by other organizations and business sectors.
Background information on the AIDS orphan crisis >>>

Umzi Wethu selects and qualifies vulnerable youth, impacted by AIDS and other causes, for eco-tourism jobs through training scholarships and effective partnerships with game reserves and parks. The holistic program trains, nurtures and equips its students through a comprehensive intervention including certified hospitality training, internships, mentoring and wellness skills. Umzi Wethu is empowered by an environmental ethic, and introduces the healing qualities of nature to support long-term health, self esteem, employ-ability and personal growth.

Umzi Wethu provides more than national standard training and care. Graduates are guaranteed jobs…something provided by few other programs for orphaned and disadvantaged youth. Even further, we bring innovation to this field, based on our 50 years of experience providing experiential wilderness programs in wild areas of South Africa. Every Umzi learner – regardless of their specialty training – spends at least five days every two month “on trail.”  Learners spend almost 15% of their training time in a wilderness setting. Read a report of one group’s experience in the wilderness. The program matches the motto – Nature, Nurture, Future.

After 18 months of the pilot phase, the first intake of hospitality students graduated on 1 July 2007 from the Umzi Wethu Academy. All graduates qualified as either Junior Chefs or Food and Beverage coordinators, and are employed at Kariega; Kuzuko and Shamwari Game Reserves, and in the PE Hotel Group.

In 2008, we launched a second Umzi Academy in Somerset East. To date, the Umzi program has reached 74 youth.  Three groups of youth have graduated the program, two groups from the hospitality track and one from the Field Ranger track.  Read about two Umzi graduates >

> Read more about Umzi Wethu at

> Another story Umzi success story


Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVCs) are seriously disadvantaged in South African society. Orphans on the street are typically malnourished and thus more easily contract tuberculosis, respiratory infections, diarrhea, measles and other otherwise preventable diseases for which they rarely receive medical attention.

Economically, orphans are typically destitute, as households become impoverished in the inevitably futile attempts to save the lives of family members with AIDS.

While society is under stress from AIDS/HIV, ecotourism is booming in South Africa. Tourism has grown 10% a year since 1994, and is now the third largest industry. Generating jobs and on average paying twice the minimum wage and three times the farm laborer wage, ecotourism provides steady employment but demands skilled labor. Research shows black South Africans rarely access the parks, and training in ecotourism is almost nonexistent; thus a job in this lucrative sector is out of reach for OVCs.  Read more about the HIV/AIDS crisis and how Umzi Wethu is designed to address this social issue with conservation-based solutions >

* Umzi Wethu is a Collaborative Conservation Project (CCP) of The WILD Foundation