Chrysalis Youth Empowerment Training

Chrysalis Youth Empowerment Training – Be inspired

In a nutshell

Chrysalis Academy is a youth and leadership organisation in Tokai, Cape Town. Established in 2000 in response to crime and substance abuse amongst the youth, it has grown to become a life-skills programme and a stepping stone to employment for young people from some of the province’s most deprived communities.

What we do

Chrysalis runs three 3-month courses a year, two for young men and one for young women. Apart from rigorous physical training in the outdoors, the programme offers a wide range of life skills and training, from managing a bank account to adapting to the workplace, advice on career development or further studies and psychological counselling. There are also alternative therapeutic approaches, including yoga, meditation, drama and journal-writing and trauma-releasing exercises. Two family visits take place during the course, which provide an opportunity for counselling the student and the whole family.

Chrysalis Academy is a provincial facility located adjacent to the SANParks head office in Table Mountain National Park. Its spacious grounds and numerous buildings house a residential skills training and development programme that is available at no cost to young men and women aged between 18 and 25 years old.

The ethos of the Academy is to help young people from communities affected by poverty, crime, substance abuse, gangsterism and poor educational outcomes to realise their potential and become active and responsible citizens who can contribute positively to democracy. The programme has grown in popularity, attracting applications from thousands of young men and women for the limited places available.

Chrysalis employs a holistic approach, focusing on the educational, physical, psycho-social and spiritual aspects of the individual. The organisation believes this multi-faceted approach is necessary to bring about personal growth and transformation.

How we do it

The empowerment training is divided into four stages, which are compulsory for all students:

When the students arrive they enter into an orientation phase. This focuses on the psycho-social component of an individual. It seeks to identify the way their social contexts and family life have influenced the choices they have made in life. This consists of various life skills training such as personal hygiene, building self-esteem, inter-personal communication, cultural diversity, substance abuse, and leadership skills, amongst other things. This phase is meant to provoke a realisation that the environment in which a person grows up has a massive impact on his or her behaviour. Once the students recognise this, alternative modes of behaviour are presented to them. This phase emphasises health and safety, with a focus on HIV and substance abuse.

The second phase is the outdoor phase. This is aimed at building leadership capability and using the healing power of nature to overcome certain challenges; biodiversity and environmental awareness. The focus of this phase is to teach students about biodiversity and wellness. It includes intensive physical activity, including several hikes. It culminates in a 24-hour solo expedition, where the students spend an entire day in solitude. The aim is to build leadership capability by incorporating nature and environmental awareness.

The third phase is the skills phase. It provides vocational training and equips the students with a range of job-relevant skills. The skills include welding, electrical circuitry, fire fighting, office administration and cookery. In addition to these practical skills, there is a focus on skills specifically tailored to each student’s needs.

The fourth and final phase is the community phase when the students engage in various career discussions, volunteer at community projects and prepare for their exit back into their communities and home life.

The 3-month program culminates in the Graduation Ceremony when parents, families, friends and invited dignitaries attend the certification and awards ceremony at a gala event where students showcase their dancing, acting and singing talents, as well as the crafts that they have learnt. A prestigious drill squad wows the audience with precision drilling maneuvers.

The students also become recipients of the prestigious President’s Award and receive a bronze medal for outstanding community service. This inspires them to strive for the silver medal and beyond, once they are back in their communities.

Facilitators pay a great deal attention on reintegrating the participants into their communities. This process comprises a range of activities that require a high level of community involvement, such as cleaning up beaches, removing graffiti from walls and various other service-related interventions.

Post-graduate programme

Chrysalis is actively involved in finding employment for the students in the form of six-month internships funded through the Expanded Public Works Programme. Many of the students are placed with the municipality in city improvement districts or in businesses such as hair salons and restaurants. These placements often lead to full-time employment.


The Academy’s programme requires a full subsidy. Students do not pay fees. The main funding source is the Western Cape Provincial Department of Community Safety, which owns the extensive property. Additional funding is provided by a number of other government departments, national public works programmes, and private-sector corporate social investment sponsorship.

What we have achieved

According to CEO Lucille Meyer, the Academy runs a "very tight ship". The students wake up at 4:30 and go to bed at 21:30 every day. The programme is structured and regimented in order to create discipline. This can be a challenge for students who have dropped out of school and who may never have been unemployed.

Despite this, the success rate is evident. Of the 200 students who enrolled for the first programme of 2014, 190 will graduate.

The Academy has received attention for the results it has produced and has been approached to set up similar initiatives in other provinces, including Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. However, Chrysalis has opted not to go that route. According to George van der Berg, an instructor and former student, rather than giving direct assistance, they prefer to train people who can then adapt the Academy model to their own circumstances and environment. In this spirit, an initiative similar to the Chrysalis Academy is being set up in KwaZulu-Natal by a group of instructors trained at the Cape Town facility.

Participating in courses at the Academy leaves students with a newfound sense of discipline, accomplishment and hope. After finishing the courses, many students decide to go back to school to get their matric, while others are assisted with applications to Further Education and Training (FET) colleges and universities.

The Academy has a five-year “after-care” programme through which it monitors the progress of its alumni. Former students receive a call from Chrysalis staff every quarter to hear how they are doing, and there is a reunion every six months. This helps the Academy to keep up with the alumni’s progress and assist with any challenges they might be facing. The programme aims to ensure that the students’ integration back into their communities does not result in regression. 

What we have learned

Chrysalis admits only 200 students at a time but interviews as many as 600 applicants who meet the requirements, indicating that demand for the programme far outstrips its capacity to meet the need.

The students must have at least passed Grade 9. Discipline can be a challenge given the context of widespread violence within their communities; fights among the students are not uncommon. The Academy has a strict disciplinary code and after several warnings a student may face expulsion.

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Chrysalis Youth Empowerment Training
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