Meet the SOAS graduate who founded a charity

Aspyre Africa founders Savina and Veronique with Association Jeunesse Espoir in Senegal

Savina Geerinckx found the SOAS curriculum so inspiring that she cites it as a determining factor behind her decision to set up a charity that provides vulnerable young people in Africa with access to much-needed vocational training.

She reserves special praise for the late Elisabeth Croll, whose module on Childrens’ Rights played a determining role in her career.

The work your charity does sounds fascinating – what is the essence of what you do?

“Our charity, Aspyre Africa, is dedicated to young people, often too old to benefit from existing programmes, and able to link up beneficiaries, NGOs, training providers and businesses in a meaningful and sustainable way. Me and my colleague, Veronique Cowan, founded Aspyre Africa in September 2014 as an urgent response to what we perceived as gaps in the sector.

“Aspyre Africa’s aim is to develop a sustainable and replicable model, which will secure the futures of countless economically disadvantaged young people in Africa. This model is being designed organically, from the ‘ground up’, and with full participation of its young beneficiaries.”

Graduation day at Aspyre Africa in Senegal

What makes Aspyre Africa unique?

Aspyre Africa is not quite like any other organisation that seeks to facilitate youth employment in Africa. Our approach is unusual. Working in Senegal, a country with high unemployment driving significant out-migration, we have partnered with a local NGO, which is experienced in supporting and mentoring vulnerable young people. Together, we have created a programme that recruits youth at risk, trains them in a sector with good employment opportunities like agriculture, supports the students through the training and helps them secure employment.

Being a small charity, Aspyre Africa has been able to be more sensitive and responsive to the realities of circumstances and personalities than an NGO of conventional size, and to build valuable personal relationships with the students and key people in Senegal while operating on a minimal budget.

Do you work with other organisations?

Our partner in Senegal is Association Jeunesse Espoir (AJE). They are a Senegalese NGO working with vulnerable children, street children, talibes and children who have suffered abuse. Their work is multifaceted: it includes providing healthcare to young people at risk, promoting and facilitating social and family reintegration, improving the living conditions of talibes children, delivering classes in French, English and Maths to their beneficiaries and providing them with access to vocational training.

Tell us about your future plans…

Yes, we would like to expand the programme to include Talibe (Koranic) students and ex-prisoners: two of the hardest groups to find employment for in Senegal.

Do you offer volunteering opportunities?

We are always looking for skilled and enthusiastic volunteers both on a regular or ad-hoc basis. We are particularly looking for people with experience in Events Management, Social Media, Marketing, Fundraising and Accounting for charities, but also research and M&E. We keep a “Volunteers’ tasks list” with specific jobs/ tasks we can offer.

Good employment opportunities exist in sectors like agriculture

How do you measure success?

In 2015 we carried out a local labour market analysis, and concluded that agriculture was the sector with the most opportunities (during winter, British supermarkets sell corn, beans, radishes and spring onions grown in Saint Louis). We also mapped out the existing vocational training centres and selected to work with the CIPA (a very dynamic and hands on horticultural school). Together with our local partner, we selected a group of potential students following a set of vulnerability criteria. In January 2016, a first cohort of 14 disadvantaged young people started a 10-month course in horticulture in Saint Louis, Senegal.

Our students learned how to use agricultural machinery, grow a wide variety of vegetables and install irrigation systems. They also learned the basics of poultry farming and how to plan and budget their activities.  Our 14 students completed their course in November 2016, followed by a 2-month internship. We are currently in the process of helping them set up a cooperative. The next cohort of 20 is also currently being selected.

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Gaining valuable labour skills is key to the work Aspyre Africa is engaged in

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