Advice for Girls in South Africa: “Aim higher!”
Innocentia Vilakazi is a woman in a man’s world: a successful welder who helped build Mbombela Stadium—home to South Africa’s 2010 FIFA World Cup—as well as the imposing Medupi Power Station in Limpopo. She’s also an instructor at the Don Bosco Educational Projects (DBEP) in the suburbs of Johannesburg—where she reminds all of her students, and especially the girls, to “aim higher.”
Founded in 1997, the DBEP serves disadvantaged children and youth living in the area’s informal settlements, and is comprised of three main projects: the Sancta Maria Early Childhood Development Center, where missionaries provide day care and early childhood development support for parents engaged in menial work; the Laura Vicuña Educational Center, where 250 students—many of whom are refugees and migrants not familiar with the local language and culture—receive primary education; and the Declan Collins Skills Center, where older youth who have struggled to access, or thrive in, traditional educational settings can learn market-ready skills that lead to sustainable employment. In addition to welding, courses are also offered in auto mechanics, computer technology, electrical wiring, arts and crafts, and life-skills training.
It’s at the Declan Collins Skills Center where Ms. Vilakazi makes a difference in the lives of young people every day.
“When I go to bed, I reflect on the things that happened during the day and I ask myself, ‘What am I going to do better tomorrow?’” she says. Sometimes, she feels the urge to step in and “fix” the situations and adversities her students face. But she has learned that her true role is to foster their resilience and knowledge so that they may fix things themselves. And not just in a figurative way.
“You get youngsters who start this course and just apply their minimum effort and I say, ‘No…you must aim higher: design power stations, make boilers, create bigger things.’ When you have worked on a big project with others you can say, ‘Yeah, I made that!’ ” she exclaims.
A master of her craft, Ms. Vilakazi is a living example for her students of what is possible—regardless of the obstacles.
“As a female welder, you’re more prone to exploitation,” she says. “Sometimes employers look at you and think, she’s a woman, so she can’t work as fast or as hard as a man,” she explains. “But here I am, proving them wrong and proud of what I’ve done.”
“Don’t give up on yourself,” she concludes, echoing what she tells her students. “Know your worth.”
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Learn more about our work in South Africa.