Peace Parks Foundation's response to COVID-19 in southern Africa.
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Magic Grant supports women’s empowerment initiative

Left to right: Mariette Ferreira, Executive Director at SACT, Kim St. Clair Bodden, senior vice president/editorial & brand director of Hearst Magazines International, Jaqueline Flores, Program Manager at The Helen Gurley Brown Foundation and Deborah Calmeyer, founder and CEO of ROAR Africa at the 2019 Graduation.

Our very own Mariette Ferreira, Executive Director of the SA College for Tourism (SACT) is a recipient of the Magic Grant awarded by the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation. The grant was founded by Helen Gurley Brown, an American author, publisher and businesswoman known for her remarkable resilience, innovation and dedication. Today, the Foundation awards Magic Grants to individuals whose actions and values reflect those of their founder and who are dedicating their lives to transformative work through bold leadership and vision.

The Foundation was inspired by Mariette’s dedication during her 18-year tenure at SACT where she started her journey as a trainer and recently became the Executive Director. “Her extraordinary passion for the College and her students is contagious and it was our hope that with this grant of $150 000, Mariette will continue to positively impact women’s lives for years to come,” says Eve Burton from the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation. And that is exactly what this inspiring woman plans to do.

Mariette with 2019 graduates.

Operating under the auspices of Peace Parks Foundation, SACT’s Hospitality Training Division annually trains up to 95 young, unemployed and unskilled individuals who are mostly women. The college has trained well over 1 300 women since its inception and more than 86% of these students find themselves in internships, learnerships or permanent employment once they graduate. In order to further develop this legacy, Mariette proposed that the $150 000 grant be divided into four components: academic expansion, learnership stipends, mid-year break travel allowances and a toiletry fund. The plan was paused last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but everything is now in full swing for 2021.

An additional $25 000 travel grant awarded will also enable Mariette to visit BridgeUp programmes in New York to learn how they support students in lower income areas and address inequities in access to education.

Impacting more lives

SACT’s reputation for excellence in training is well-known and the College receives more than 300 applications annually. As they only have 95 placements available, Mariette’s vision is to make the hospitality training programme more accessible, and this will be the ‘academic expansion’ goal for the grant.

“My vision is to establish a training model for entry-level hospitality skills, which will allow the College to train even more unemployed female youth. This model will be offered at different employers’ locations and is much more practically-orientated to ensure that training is focused, specialised, more accessible and cost‐effective,” says Mariette.

Currently, with SACT’s traditional and comprehensive training methodology, 70% of time is spent on theory, 20% on practical training, and the remaining 10% on workplace exposure. With Mariette’s new module, theory will only take up 10% of the students’ time, 20% will be practical training and the rest will be spent gaining workplace exposure and integration. Students will also be focusing on one specialised skills programme, such as assistant chef, bar or table attendant, or receptionist.

Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa: Students reported for orientation at the hotel.

To ensure high standards, SACT appointed a well-known hospitality training provider to conduct on-site training for selected students at industry establishments, such as hotels, guest houses and restaurants, with whom SACT had partnered. These partners will have the added benefit of including some of their own female staff members for the newly developed Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) skills programmes which will expand their skillset, creating what the College calls an ‘Equal Hero’ training partnership.

Thanks to the Magic Grant, the College is now able to launch a pilot project with a small number of students. “We hope to review the programme and improve on any weaknesses before expanding and serving more students,” says Mariette.

Pilot sites in training: Students at the three training sites receiving computer classes as part of their course for the ‘Academy Expansion’ project.

Last year a lot of work was done to develop the training courses for this project, which commenced in February this year. Eight students were placed at Erinvale Golf Club, three at Erinvale Hotel & Spa and three more at The Imibala Trust’s restaurant Col’Cacchio. After their four month training course is completed, the training module will be modified if necessary, and then expanded to other establishments with 55 additional students.

“Peace Parks is excited about this ambitious project, which has the potential to impact on the lives of those who, until now, have not had opportunities for formal training,” says Kathy Bergs, Peace Parks’ Chief Development Officer.

Creating future leaders

The College wants to integrate the academic expansion plan with a leadership element.

In an effort to level the playing field for early‐career alumni, the College, in cooperation with the local 5‐star boutique Drostdy Hotel, a wholly owned subsidiary of SACT, has developed a Learnership Programme. This is a flagship programme that takes the College’s top 20 graduates to a higher education and training level by offering an opportunity to obtain two full mid‐management qualifications in Professional Cookery and Food and Beverage Services while gaining valuable work experience. The Learnerships are registered by the Culture, Art, Tourism, Hospitality & Sport Sector Education and Training Authority (CATHSSETA) of South Africa.

Learnership Commenced: After a week of induction at the Drostdy Hotel, the students started their first theory training session on 8 March 2021.

Now the College will select the two most suitable candidates from this Learnership group and train them as qualified assessors for the skills courses offered as part of the new mobile training module. SACT will use their existing workplace partners to employ these top candidates permanently after successful completion of both the Learnership Programme and the Assessor courses. These top students will not only be employed at a first-rate establishment, but also become the on‐site trainers and assessors at workplace partner training sites in the new academic expansion project.

Mariette says, “by integrating our top students with our new academic expansion project, the College is investing in and developing future female leaders in the hospitality industry.”

The Magic Grant will cover the stipends of these top students for 12 months and pay for the Assessor training course of the two selected candidates.

Holistic approach in serving students

Something that many people may take for granted is having access to basic toiletries and personal hygiene items. Unfortunately, many of the disadvantaged SACT students can hardly afford these supplies. As a result, it often happens that staff and fellow students club together and assist where they can. To relieve this pressure, a part of the Magic Grant will go to setting up a much-needed toiletry fund through which personal hygiene necessities will be provided to students, allowing them to have the peace of mind to focus only on their training.

“Another practical need we would like to meet is for students to be able to visit their families when the Hospitality Academy Division of the College has a two-week mid-year break. Again, this is a luxury they can rarely afford, and many students end up staying on campus for the duration of their break,” says Mariette. “In the 19 years since SACT was established, experience has shown that the trip back home rejuvenates and reignites the student’s commitment to the course, driving home their vow to better the lives of themselves and their families.”

To this end, the last part of the grant will go to enabling students to make this important trip or, for those who cannot go home, sponsor a vacation at a tourist venue, so that they can both rest and experience what it is to be the guest of a hospitality establishment.

Thank you

Mariette, the SA College for Tourism and the students they serve, are deeply grateful for the Helen Gurley Brown Foundation’s generous support. The Magic Grant will touch so many young women’s lives and it is an honour to be part of a women’s empowerment movement that Helen Gurley Brown fought so hard to achieve. Also, a special thank you to Deborah Calmeyer, founder of Roar Africa, who was the catalyst in bringing these two partnerships together.

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