How working with plants develops a sense of hope and dignity

Hlumelelisa, which means ‘to nurture new growth from an old shoot,’ is a nonprofit organization in Johannesburg, South Africa that established a unique social development project for prisoners. At Hlumelelisa, offenders can engage in horticulture as a way of rehabilitation whilst serving their sentence, so that they’ll have a better chance of employment when they get out – and a much lower chance of landing back in prison. At Roots, we’re excited to offer a couple of unique internships with this inspiring project. Roots Intern Saida spoke to Christo, Hlumelelisa’s Chief Operating Officer, to learn more about the project.

The Issues; Poverty, Crime, and Recidivism

South Africa is one of the countries with the highest crime rates in the world. Further, studies clearly show that 50% to 70% of offenders recidivate within a period of three years and land back behind bars. This situation, as Christo explains, “has, over time, led to public opinion that supports locking people up – and throwing the keys away. But, here at Hlumelelisa, we strongly believe that without rehabilitation offenders inevitably return to crime.” Hlumelelisa’s approach is humane and without prejudice. “In our work, it does not matter where you come from,” says Christo. “It doesn’t matter who you have been and what you have done in the past. It only matters where you are going.”

Using Horticulture as a Vehicle for Rehabilitation

During a ten-month course, the Hlumelelisa students gain practical experience in gardening and horticulture, and learn valuable  business and life skills. Every year from February to November, one thousand hours (!) are spent on each student’s rehabilitation; an immense effort that shows positive outcomes.  “The vehicle of the course is horticulture, which is very broad and includes all aspects of growing plants, vegetables and trees,” explains Christo. In classes of fifteen students, offenders and facilitators complete theoretical training and cultivate organic vegetable gardens to gain practical experience. This is driven by Hlumelelisa’s strong belief that “working in nature with plants helps individuals develop a sense of hope and dignity”, and therefore helps offenders to rehabilitate.

Find out more about the Nonprofit Management Internship & Communications Internship at Hlumelelisa

Moreover, students learn life skills, which Christo is sure “offer opportunities for a new beginning and a new mindset that comes along with self-esteem, perseverance and new goals for the individuals.” The success rate of this initiative is high; with more than 90% of students finishing the rehabilitation course with a certificate. In contrast, only three out of 140 past students went back to prison for committing new crimes. For 2020, two hundred new students are being recruited. Some former offenders actually end up employed by Hlumelelisa: more than fifty percent of the facilitators were imprisoned and are now rehabilitated and serve as role models for their students.

Social impact internship in Johannesburg Social impact internship in Johannesburg

Stories of hope

Hlumelelisa has a wealth of success stories. Christo points out that there are many former offenders who have now turned their life around. “One is a landscaper, another has started a recycling business, two more are running tuck shops and one owns a taxi service. Others are employed as gardeners or are involved in horticulture training.” And in what seems like a wonderful full circle, some past students are now facilitators for Hlumelelisa.

One of these students-turned-facilitators is Thami. While Thami was serving his sentence, his dream was teaching others how to turn their lives around. Christo explains that Thami came from a difficult background; he grew up in a crime-ridden area, surrounded by limited support and plenty of gang violence. With very little positive outlets or healthy opportunities, he got caught up in crime and ended up arrested. Thami wanted a different future and was instantly motivated when he joined Hlumelelisa’s horticulture programme. The plants showed him how to love and care for something; the work made him ambitious. Today, he loves sharing these values and feelings with his students. Thami is forty-one years old today and tries to be like a father to his students. They are now where he’s been before.

Another student Christo highlights is Lili (name changed), who is still incarcerated. She is a current horticulture student in the Johannesburg Central Correctional Centre. She was born in Zimbabwe forty-two years ago. Today, she is a strong, motivated and lovable woman. She liked to grow veggies even before she joined Hlumelelisa. Hlumelelisa has changed her life; her dream is to be able to use the skills she’s gaining for when she will be released. “Hlumelelisa is not only valuable to her because of the gardening skills. It gives her a feeling of family and respect”, Christo says.

Social impact internship in Johannesburg     Social impact internship in Johannesburg

Joining Hlumelelisa for an NGO Management Internship in Johannesburg

As an intern, you can be part of these beautiful transformations and at the same time improve your professional skills. There are two different internship programs; you can either do an NGO management internship, focused on fundraising and marketing, or you can do a communications and digital media internship with a focus on content writing, reporting and social media. Either way, you’ll be a large part of a small organisation doing incredible work.

Four good reasons to consider an internship:

1. You’ll have hugely varied tasks
Your exact portfolio will depend on your skills, experience, and interest, but they can include the following;
– Writing proposals: Help in fundraising and donor research
– Assisting with overall communications and fundraising strategies
– Managing social media, doing reporting, and managing campaigns
– Helping in giving out donations to children, elderly homes and development centers

2. You’ll be a vital part of a small but hugely dedicated team
You will work in a small, committed and energetic team of thirteen people which provides a great learning opportunity and makes you feel like a part of the organisation and the team spirit. Also, you will attend work meetings in a warm and supportive environment.

3. You’ll make an impact & gain great insights into the nonprofit sector
You’ll be part of a hugely valuable program that is tackling a great social challenge. As an intern, you’ll get to contribute to this cause. And since you’ll be part of a grassroots organisation, you’ll be able to experience most elements of running a nonprofit organisation.

4. You’ll live and work in Johannesburg
As an intern in Johannesburg, you’ll have the pleasure of staying in Melville, a lively, trendy area known for its many bars and restaurants and closeness to the university. Your supervisor Christo will take care of your transport to Hlumelelisa. The project is located in Booysens, close to the Apartheid museums in the southern part of Jo’burg. During time off, there are plenty of opportunities to explore both Johannesburg and its surroundings, which includes Kruger National Park!

Interested? Look up our two unique internships and get more information!