Most disadvantaged families normally fail to send their children to higher levels of education due to poverty while some children fail to do so because they are not intellectually capable.
This has seen a lot of children, especially in rural areas, leading hopeless lives.
The fact that they have no recognised educational qualifications makes them grab any job that comes their way even if they have certain life skills.
Hlekweni Vocational Training Centre, situated about 20km from Bulawayo along Plumtree Road, was founded in 1967 with the core objective of empowering youths — especially from the rural areas — with life skills through vocational courses.
Most colleges enrol students with at least “O” Level qualifications. This is not the case with Hlekweni training centre.
The institution enrols youths who are just capable of reading and writing.
Since the inception of the institution, about 11 000 youths have graduated from it with various technical skills. Currently the institution has 112 trainees and the courses run for six months.
The institution’s director, Craig Barnett, said the institution provides training in about six disciplines such as sustainable agriculture, early childhood development, carpentry and joinery, sewing and garment-making, building and plumbing and drain-laying.
Last week on Wednesday 63 students graduated in various courses from the institution. The graduates completed their training in various disciplines offered at Hlekweni.
“We draw trainees from across the country, specifically from rural areas. Our targets are those who failed or did not go that far in their education and are at a point where they feel hopeless about how they can improve their lives.”
“We empower them with skills so that when they leave here they will be confident of themselves because they will be having skills which can help them better their lives and develop their communities,” said Barnett.
He said most of the graduates produced from the institution have become successful in life as they managed to start their own projects.
He said because of the success of most graduates from the institution, the trainees have become ambassadors of the centre. He called on more youths to enrol with the institution in order to be empowered with life skills.
Barnett said non-governmental organisations were also assisting the institution by bringing in trainees and donations.
“The major challenge that we face here is that we are dealing with youths who did not go that far with their education. It is not easy to impart the knowledge to them. But we are glad that we have produced such a large number of graduates,” said Barnett.
He said the institution works with communities across the country to promote the youth entrepreneurship. Barnett said the institution engages communities in livestock rearing and drought-resistance agriculture, especially in the drought-prone Matabeleland region.
Barnett said the centre needs funding to rehabilitate infrastructure.
“We are currently engaging donors in efforts to get assistance to rehabilitate the institution’s buildings,” he said.
Aiming to provide food to the trainees, the centre has 52 head of cattle, 46 goats, 12 hares, five pigs, two large vegetable gardens and crop fields.
Barnett said among the life skills provided by the institution they also educated trainees on peace building strategies and conflict resolution.
He said if people are taught how to live in harmony with each other peace would prevail in the country.
Among the graduating students, Sindisiwe Madebe was the best student in early childhood development, Thembani Ncube was the best student in plumbing and drain-laying and Amanda Ncube was the best student in sewing and garment-making.
To boost the confidence and interest of students in their courses, a UK-based non-governmental organisation called Inspection of Voluntary Journeys sponsored a trainees’ competition on business and leadership initiatives.
The competition encouraged trainees to come up with business ideas which they intend to undertake as they leave the institution.
Madebe won the first prize of $500 after she came up with a business idea of smart charts.
She said she would produce school and office charts which she would sell to local schools.
After she was presented with her prize, she said she would use the money to initiate her project as she had planned.
Tanny Moyo won the second prize of $250 after he came up with an ecocraft business concept.
He said the business would focus on using the environment and indigenous trees to produce furniture which he would sell to various customers.