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Previously unemployed graduate now part of team finding solutions in COVID-19 fight

By Nonkululeko Njilo, 03 November 2020

Two years ago, Rirhandzu Rikhotso was an unemployed graduate in search of workplace skills. Now she is part of team helping to recruit potential candidates to participate in the country’s Covid-19 vaccine trials.

The 28-year-old, originally from Giyani, Limpopo, left her hometown for Gauteng in 2017 to find work to support her family.

“The situation was dire because my mother, who is a single parent, was unemployed, I needed to find a job to help support her, my siblings and child,” she said.

The public management graduate said she did not envisage a career in the health field.

“I have never imagined myself working with sick people; I have always wondered how health workers did it, and I also did not have a qualification,” she said.

Little did she know would be one of more than 40,679 young South Africans to benefit from 12-month work experience through the Youth Employment Service (YES) over the past 20 months.

YES is a non-profit organisation (NPO) that works with business, government and labour to build economic pathways for youth.

Rikhotso joined Youth Health Africa’s work experience programme in December 2018 and was placed with a health care non-governmental organisation (NGO), the Aurum Institute, as an HIV self-screener.

A year later, she was employed full-time by the Aurum Institute, having grown into a HIV ambassador who could educate her community on issues regarding the virus and Aids.

“I gained the skills needed to get into the job market. Although I could have used these skills in other sectors, I wanted to contribute more in health care,” she said.

As an HIV ambassador she faced a myriad of challenges as part of the job required her to visit people’s homes in door-to-door campaigns.

“It was really challenging. There was a time I wanted to quit, but I remembered my own situation at home and the importance of educating people as I was now trained. There were people who kicked us out of their houses and some who told us that if they wanted to test for HIV, they would go their clinics,” said Rikhotso.

The experience opened her eyes and motivated her to stay in the profession after her contract had in 2019.

“It feels good to be among the people waking up every day to make a difference to the health response to a global pandemic”

Rirhandzu Rikhotso

This year, she received a call to become a Covid-19 ambassador.

“I was absorbed by the Aurum Institute, and now I’m helping recruit potential candidates who can participate in the country’s Covid-19 vaccine trials,” said Rikhotso.

The 28-year-old said she had been anxious the job could put her life at risk.

“I was scared, uninformed, thinking I did not want to die and leave my family. But I thought this was for a great cause and I received the assurance I would be covered for medical aid [once in the field] after receiving training.”

The people she is encountering are also fearful but willing to participate in finding solutions to the coronavirus, which makes her job easier.

“People are scared. They fear being infected with Covid-19 and passing it on. They are usually eager to learn and participate in the trials.

“I am really enjoying my job. It feels good to be among the people waking up every day to make a difference to the health response to a global pandemic,” she said.

Part of her job entails being a bearer of bad news for those who test positive for the coronavirus. She recruits people with underlying conditions such as hypertension to join the trials.

Dr. Tashmia Ismail, chief executive of YES, said one of the biggest barriers to securing a job for SA’s unemployed youth was getting the critical experience that prepares them to be successful in the world of work.

“The social impact of employing young people is immense. All the young people who come through the YES programme talk powerfully about what it means to be able to support their families, but more than that, they are uplifting entire communities with their incomes,” said Ismail.

A YES survey during the height of the lockdown of more than 3,000 youth placed in 12-month work experiences showed that 80% of those surveyed were supporting people financially with their YES salaries since the lockdown started, including family, friends and even neighbours.

TimesLIVE. 2020. Previously unemployed graduate now part of team finding solutions in Covid-19 fight. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 November 2020].

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