HUNDREDS of unemployed men who used to tout for work on the pavements outside Port Alfred's upmarket marina are being given a second chance, thanks to a groundbreaking community outreach project.
Started two weeks ago by unemployed volunteers in disused municipal buildings, more than 300 men have already signed up with the Sikhulise Skills Development Project – and dozens more are joining every day as word spreads across the Sunshine Coast.
Run by ex-school principal Jane Cowley, Lynne Nettleton, former police flying squad radio control operator Nompumelelo Sigonyela and other volunteers, workers are not just given hope of finding jobs – they are also learning vital skills to improve their lives.
"The response has been overwhelming," Cowley said. "It's been so busy since we opened, everything is still a blur."
She said working on the project was both inspiring and heartbreaking.
Sigonyela moved back to Port Alfred after her husband, Sess, was shot 13 times by robbers and she was hit twice during the attack. She said working on the project was helping her piece her life back together.
"It's easy to get depressed and give up after what happened to us. I love working with people. Helping them helps me," she said.
Instead of standing on the pavement outside the Royal Alfred Marina hoping for a car to stop and offer them piece work, the unemployed are kept busy learning skills like mosaic work, art and vegetable gardening in an effort to build up their self-esteem.
Plans are afoot to sell the vegetables and art works to generate funds for the unemployed and every time a worker secures a day job, he is requested to donate only R1 of his pay to the project to help with costs.
They are also assisted with compiling CVs, getting IDs and opening bank accounts. Details of all the workers involved in the project are sent to police for clearance in an effort to weed out criminals and prevent potential problems with prospective employees.
"Even though we are not here to judge people by what they have done in the past, we do have checks and balances to prevent problems," Cowley said
Although only six to 10 workers a day are finding part-time employment, the others have not given up hope they will be next. Workers are separated into five groups – one for each day of the week – and given preference for work on their allocated day.
A skills register has been compiled and employers are urged to fill in a performance assessment sheet to give organisers an idea of each person's commitment. Skills range from drivers, game rangers, carpenters and plumbers to gardeners and day labourers.
The Ndlambe Municipality and businesses have come to the party by donating equipment to the project to turn the derelict buildings into offices.
Municipal spokesman Khulukile Mbolekwa has promised ongoing municipal support for the project.