“I used to be a lost boy, a drug addict,” says 21-year-old Nathaniel Wagner of Bridgetown on the Cape Flats. “Now my passion is to show other young people that they have opportunities and can chase after their dreams.”
Wagner is a graduate of the Grow Academy, a digital artisan training initiative set up by a group of Cape Town tech entrepreneurs and NGOs to provide entry-level online skills for the city’s burgeoning tech industry. Along with 20 other recruits, he completed a week-long “boot camp” in 2011, followed by an internship and now a job at RLabs, the NGO that hosts the Grow Academy.
“The experience was awesome,” recalls Wagner. “We learned about social media, web design, crowdsourcing and search engine optimisation. Even something as short as a week-long bootcamp can show young people that there is a way out of their difficulties and feed their appetite for learning.”
Fellow trainee Jason Martin, currently working as a junior web developer at a local company, has been inspired to complete his matric. “I left school without finishing Grade 10. I was afraid of life and felt like my dreams were shattered — I didn’t believe it was possible for me to make it this far. Now I feel good about myself; I can see that it’s not too late for me to learn and that I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to. There is power in our thoughts.”
Like Wagner, Rabia Adamson is now teaching other young people at RLabs and in Grow Academy boot camps. “What I have learned, I am now giving to someone else. Going from learning to teaching others is awesome. I feel so motivated and encouraged. It’s good to be here.”
The second boot camp was held in January this year and graduates of that programme are now being placed in internships. Later this year, they will have an opportunity to complete an Internet Super User course presented by GetSmarter in collaboration with UCT’s Information Systems Department.
In the meantime, Wagner and Adamson are preparing to welcome the third intake. “It’s an amazing thing to see the change in people,” says Wagner. “They come at the beginning of the week with no direction, not sure what to do. When they leave they are happy and smiling and wanting more.”