‘I’m seeing South Africa through fresh eyes and it’s fantastic’: mother of three Megan van Mill (far right) is involved with a job readiness programme that gives unemployed people hope again |  Photo: Nicky Elliot
MEGAN VAN MILL WAS BORN IN JOHANNESBURG and attended Diocesan School for Girls in Grahamstown before studying business science, finance and accounting at the University of Cape Town. After working in different banking sectors, she moved into foundation work and studied for a master’s in community development in the UK.
She met her Dutch husband Klaas at a workshop they were both attending in Switzerland. Three children followed, and they moved as a family to Constantia in Cape Town two years ago. Here, Megan tells JILL BADER how and why she started working for a local job readiness programme that gives job seekers skills and hope. 

‘ZANOKHANYO MEANS LIGHT in Xhosa. The idea is to bring light into people’s lives by giving them hope. The students who come on our 12-day job readiness journey have often lost hope after coming from very difficult circumstances or experiencing trauma, such as violence at home or in the community. Many are foreigners experiencing xenophobia on top of everything else.

We teach the students ‘soft’ skills to help them get back into the economy, such as how to apply for a job and basic computing. We also focus on how to believe in yourself again, why character’s important and the value of focusing on education, meaningful work and ways to help or love people — rather than money, shortcuts, imitations or compliments.

The Zanokhanyo Network aims to help 1,000 unemployed people a year |  Photo: Nicky Elliott

Every year we aim to help 1,000 people who’ve been excluded from the economy, and to connect most of them to job opportunities. Our hubs are in Epping and Wynberg but we offer training at mobile units in a number of other locations around Cape Town.

I got involved with this programme because though I’d enjoyed nice restaurants and the beauty of Cape Town when visiting from the Netherlands for 12 years, I felt the need to ‘own’ South Africa when we moved back here. Constantia’s a very comfortable suburb which one doesn’t feel like moving out of, but while we were all struck as a family by the incredible houses and cars, we knew there was poverty that didn’t match up.

Megan at home in Constantia with husband Klaas and (left to right) Joshua, Margaux and Ella Joy : ‘Our suburb was very comfortable but something didn’t match up’  |  Photo: Nicky Elliott

Emotional healing is very important for our students. On day two the students begin to share their stories, how it happened that they’re unemployed, what brought them to this place. It’s incredibly painful. Most of our trainers have been students themselves and we found this process was giving them secondary trauma. Some were leaving as a result.

So my first task was to look at wellness. I didn’t know what wellness meant. I needed to ask: how do we, as staff, remain well? The first step was for all staff to go on a loss, grief and continuous trauma course. This has been followed by monthly mentoring sessions for all staff and regular debriefing for trainers. We also have begun to offer ‘lifestyle’ wellness seminars to all staff, covering topics such as ‘financial fitness’ and healthy eating, and have staff days off every three months to build the team, have fun together and spend time with God and reading the Bible.

 blind and unaware

There’s a lot of anger among young black people who say the people in a wealthy place like Constantia don’t know what it’s like to live in a shack. I’m finally becoming aware of what this really means for a person: I didn’t realise how blind and unaware I was. I am learning so much about South Africa through fresh eyes and it’s fantastic to be involved. I love this job.’

The Zanokhanyo Network, with which Megan’s husband Klaas is involved on the management side, is run by Common Good, an initiative of Common Ground Church. See here how it has helped give graduate Asanda a sense of a future that’s viable.

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