Umzi Wethu Project announced at 8th World Wilderness Congress

10/06/05

ANCHORAGE, AK The Wilderness Foundation of South Africa, working with HOPE Worldwide and several other partners, announced a new initiative, Umzi Wethu, at the 8th World Wilderness Congress in Anchorage, Alaska. The project will invest in young people who are orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic across Africa, giving them housing, training and ultimately jobs in ecotourism, hospitality and other industries.

"We realize that wilderness is a force for social change, and that this project can offer a safe and supportive environment to invest in young people in a way that is crucial to entire family systems," said Andrew Muir, executive director of the Wilderness Foundation, South Africa.

As of August 2005, more than 800,000 children have been orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Many young people are being forced to be heads of households at a young age, and need to find good employment. An Umzi Wethu Training Center will combine mentoring with the transformative power of wild areas. Youth will be trained in life skills, hospitality and conservation skills for a minimum of one year, in a mix of wild environments and a home campus. They will then spend a year as interns in a private game reserve or national park, before placement in secure jobs. The project creates a bridge beyond existing orphan support lines, introducing a strong underlying environmental ethic.

Funds are currently being raised to support Umzi Wethu, and partners are being added to the project to ensure its sustainability. Based in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, Umzi Wethu hopes to expand across Africa. The first participants, ages 16 to 18, will begin in March 2006.

"South Africa is a conservation leader and celebrates 10 years of democracy," said Muir. "But beneath this success grows social devastation of proportions that could overwhelm South Africa's capability to sustain its achievements. It is our hope that Umzi Wethu will change the destiny of teenagers from a life of poverty and possibly crime to economic advancement and possible social leadership that embraces environmental values."

The theme for the 8th WWC is Wilderness, Wildlands and People: A Partnership for the Planet. It will generate the most up-to-date and accurate information on the benefits of wilderness and wildlands to contemporary and traditional societies, and will review the best models for balancing wilderness and wildlands conservation with human needs. Learn more at www.8wwc.org

The Congress, founded in 1977, was the first international environmental gathering to include indigenous people and always focuses on wilderness and people.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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