Friday, May 15, 2015

Andrew and all of the Other Andrews


           Only a few weeks after we arrived in Johannesburg, we met a young man named Andrew. We were giving him an orientation about the PEF program (Perpetual Education Fund, which doesn't mean a person will be perpetually educated J but that he/she will eventually repay the loan so that others can use the returned funds for education) Anyway, Andrew is a nice young man who wanted very much to get an education, a good job, and start a family, but he had been home from his mission a couple of years and was still unemployed. The employment rate here is high anyway (over 25%) but he had the added handicap of being born in Malawi. I’m sure Malawi is a beautiful country so it isn’t the country itself; it’s any country that’s not South Africa. Just like in the US, there are strict laws against hiring foreign-born people unless they have the correct documents and permissions from both countries. I have learned that these are expensive and time consuming to obtain here in South Africa, and in order to get the ones in Malawi, he would have to travel home and according to him, have some money for bribes. Some of you may have been following the news here in South Africa and understand that the attitude of South Africans to immigrants is less than accepting. Even with those problems and with the high unemployment, there are apparently more opportunities here than in other parts of Africa, so they keep coming.
            Andrew hadn’t let his challenges stop him from trying, and all during this year, he has been going to job interviews and placing applications. Because he has had no income, he doesn’t have money for transportation, so it has been difficult for him to make progress.  Many times he walked miles to interviews, to part time jobs, or to schools to check on programs and prices. Sometimes, we have given him rides to interviews and also to the schools so that he can continue his goal of getting an education. The lack of transportation not only presented a problem in getting to interviews, it was also a barrier to the interview resulting in a job.  Some employers that would have hired him would not because they knew that he wouldn’t be able to get to work regularly. It’s a problem for many young people here. Few have cars or are educated for more than entry-level jobs. Kentucky Fried Chicken, for example, has about a hundred stores here in the city and is often advertising for employees, but the wages they pay are not even enough cover the cost of the taxi to get to and from work. The advice given is that they should take the job, even though they won’t earn a dime, and then to work hard in hopes of being promoted to management where they will earn enough to get to work and maybe buy groceries.
            We were all happy when Andrew finally got a job a couple of months ago. I’m not sure how they got around the citizenship requirements, but he was hired at Game, which is a store similar to Walmart, stocking shelves on the night shift. His starting wage is the equivalent of about $1.50/hr. US, which will be enough for his taxi fare and food but not a lot else. For the days before he got a paycheck to pay taxi fair, Frank took him to work several times, but most of the days Andrew walked to and from work. The distance between where he lives (in a little tin structure in one of the townships) to the mall where he was hired is 25 kilometers or about 16 miles. It takes more than an hour to drive the distance; it takes him five hours to walk one way.
            The reason I’m sharing Andrew’s story is because it is so typical of most of the young people in Africa, including many of the young people that we work with. Like Andrew, their job search may take years before it pays off. I remember one of our teachers saying that you can tell which of the people at a work place have had to struggle to get hired like that. He said those people are always at work an hour early, work really hard while they are there, and never leave on time.
            He is still working; and he looks so happy when we see him. He called a few weeks ago to say that he has finally been able to finish the application process so he can start a course in project management (studying while he continues working) and just the other day, we received a text telling us that he wants us to meet his girlfriend. We are very thankful for his progress even though it has been and will continue to be challenging.


  1. Mom, that's an amazing story. Such a stark difference from a lot of people here in the U.S. that just expect to be taken care of without making any effort. I hope he continues on the course he is on now and is able to get ahead in life. I'm sure he really appreciates the rides, Dad!

  2. We are so spoiled in the US! "The advice given is that they should take the job, even though they won’t earn a dime, and then to work hard in hopes of being promoted to management where they will earn enough to get to work and maybe buy groceries." Can you imagine if someone tried to tell a potential employer that in the US? Someone would call the ACLU on them or something. Thanks for sharing these stories Mom, helps us all appreciate how big our world is and how blessed we are. AND how much we need to give to those less fortunate.