Craft of Lyfe is always pushing to grow and find new ways of easing the financial burden of accessing education. Sometimes that translates into spreading the word about change makers who are also braving up and finding a way to make a difference in the world.

So, we would like to shine some light on our friends at Youth Education Farms (YEF), a very small group of individuals in Vancouver, Canada, who are passionate about seeing that children of an impoverished country are provided with opportunities for education. YEF believes that change happens from the ground up, and they are turning the regular charity model on its head by creating a self-sustaining cycle of giving, employment, education, and giving back. YEF recognizes education as being a necessary tool for a community to change and thrive.

  Children at Youth Education Farm, Swaziland

Photo credit: Youth Education Farm

Youth Education Farms in a nutshell

YEF is a Canadian federally registered charitable organization that develops and manages a small scale agricultural and livestock farm located in rural Swaziland, as well as a store/restaurant in the community of Buhleni, that offers many of the products grown on the farm for sale. Profits from each are used to fund elementary and high school tuition fees for orphans or vulnerable children. In exchange for their tuition fees and in addition to their regular curriculum at school, YEF students attend the YEF educational course to learn basic life skills such as AIDS prevention, business skills and career planning. Since 2010, Youth Education Farms has provided 758 primary, high school, and university scholarships to underprivileged youth living in or near Herefords Swazliand.

Photo credit: Youth Education Farm

A Lightbulb Moment

In 2008, when Riley Mari, the founder of Youth Education Farms, visited Swaziland to volunteer as a teacher through a program at his university, he noticed that there were many orphans who were unable to attend school and get an education. With the highest rate of AIDS per capita, many children were left without parents, unable to pay for their own education. With a population without primary or secondary education, how could the community grow or flourish? He also noticed many donations to the community were coming in the form of food dropped off at doorsteps, which wasn’t addressing any fundamental or underlying issues or providing any skills that would allow the community to not rely solely on external sources of charity.

YEF was founded that year to assist a generation of orphans and vulnerable youth who were unable to afford the fees required to attend school in Herefords, Swaziland. The first steps towards realizing their  purpose began in 2009 with the construction and completion of YEF’s first farm in Swaziland. Although the farm started as a mixed rotational crop farm, it soon evolved into something much more and the YEF Farm today now produces 700 chickens, and 6 pigs per week.

In 2013, YEF opened a retail store located in a small town called Buhleni, a busy transit hub located approximately ten-minutes by car from the YEF Farm. The YEF Store was created to market the products produced on the YEF Farm. Today, it sells products from the YEF Farm as well as from other suppliers including dairy products, meat, produce and other household goods.

 

Since opening, the store has become an integral part of the community and a major outlet for YEF’s products. In 2016, the store sold approximately $775,000 Canadian dollars worth of goods and services to the local community. The net profits from this revenue were used to fund student tuition fees.

At present, there are 30 students in the YEF program who are able to attend school when they otherwise may be denied access to an education due to financial circumstances. Tuitions paid by YEF not only provide access to an education but also provide each child with things that we may take for granted in our society such as a nutritious daily meal, a school uniform, shoes, and school supplies.

Nurturing and supporting future leaders

The whole purpose behind YEF is to provide student-aged youth with access to education, something that many people in North America may take for granted. In addition to the YEF farm and store, which both generate funds for the school fees, we created a YEF Educational Course. This course is mandatory for all students who are in the YEF Program. Students in the YEF program are able to attend whichever school is closest to their residence, and they are taught the regular curriculum at their schools, however, students must regularly attend additional courses health education and financial literacy. YEF wanted to develop courses in these two areas because they identified these as relevant subjects that were missing from the regular curriculum. With AIDS and poverty being so prevalent in Swaziland, YEF’s hope is to provide education in these topics, with a focus on sexual health and AIDS prevention, as well as career planning and financial management. The hope is that the students in the YEF program will be the best and the brightest, and will graduate as leaders in their community.

Photo credit: Youth Education Farm

A Holistic Model

YEF is a holistic model. The students are the focal point of the charity, and they benefit by having an opportunity to attend school and get an education. Through the operations on the farm, YEF has provided many jobs to adults in the community. By providing a job rather than a donation, YEF offers the opportunity for adults to create a living for themselves. In 2017, the YEF Store and YEF Farm paid approximately $46,500 to its 20 employees. Employing members of the local community will remain an important goal of YEF in 2018.  The YEF store also serves as a place for members of the community to gather.  The goal is that once students in the YEF program graduate, they will have the tools to give back to their own community. YEF aims to have the whole community benefit.

The Challenges

YEF is a small operation located in Vancouver Canada, run completely by volunteers. YEF has a manager who is from and currently lives in Swaziland, who earns a salary, and runs the operations on the ground.  The time difference between Vancouver and Swaziland can cause some communication delays, but technology definitely makes it easier to stay in regular contact.

We asked Riley Mari (the Founder) if he had a story he could share with us...

This past June while in Swaziland, I caught up with a student named Spay who entered YEF 6 years ago in 2011. She lost her father when she was young and from then on had to work after school on the street selling candy and corn to provide for herself and to supplement her and her mother’s income.  In grade 10, she couldn’t find a way to pay for her tuition and thus could no longer attend school. Prior to the next school year, Sifiso Mnisi, Managing Director for YEF brought her into the YEF program. YEF provided the funds for her to go to high school and she did her part by getting the grades that would get her into university. Prior to being accepted, her mother died and never got to see her go to University. Spay persevered, attended University and on weekends worked at the YEF Store. Today, were proud to say that Spay has a Bachelors in Information Technology and is a mentor to younger students in the YEF.

 

YEF's founder, Riley Mari, talking with Qondile Mkhonta during his visit to Swaziland this past May.
P
hoto credit: Youth Education Farm

How you can get involved

YEF holds an annual Fundraising Gala in Vancouver. Their last fundraiser was in November of 2017, and they’ll be busy planning for their 2018 fundraiser soon. As a mandate of their organization, 100% of the net proceeds from the Youth Education Farms Fundraising Gala is spent on humanitarian development initiatives in Swaziland that have a lasting impact. The Fundraising Gala is a fun way to learn about YEF, meet the volunteers, and give back to a great cause.

YEF’s monthly giving program launched in 2015. This is an easy and convenient way to give in small amounts over the course of the year and ensure that YEF is receiving support throughout the year. Readers can sign up online at www.youtheducationfarms.com.

There is also a sponsorship program, which is an excellent way for passionate individuals or corporations to support our initiatives in Swaziland. Sponsorship includes donations ranging from $1000 - $10,000+.

YEF encourages people to visit Swaziland and see how YEF works within the community. In 2014, YEF formed a relationship with The University of Redlands in California and since then, students and faculty from the University have travelled to Africa and visited YEF and its students on 3 separate occasions. It may be difficult to imagine what life is like in Swaziland, or what difference YEF makes in the Herefords community. In May 2016, we were honoured to receive a letter from one of the students visiting from University of Redland, the following is a short excerpt about her experiences while visiting.

“I never could have understood the impact that a nonprofit like YEF could have without experiencing firsthand the importance of this organization to the community in Swaziland.

I cannot put into words the beauty that I have seen in Swaziland, and how my experiences at Youth Education Farm have inspired and humbled me for all time. The Swazis will work for a bright future, with or without outside help. Yet they deserve all of our support, and this can be achieved through an organization such as Youth Education Farms.”

 

 

Support from more advantaged communities is integral in making this happen, and YEF appreciates the support from donors, sponsors, and volunteers.

YEF is social! Please connect with them on Instagram, find them on Facebook , and their website.

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