Amy Foundation closes for the year amidst staff dissatisfaction

Management blames lack of funds for organisation’s problems

Photo of protest

Staff of the Amy Foundation protest outside the organisation’s offices. Photo supplied

By Cally Ballack

27 November 2018

The Amy Foundation, formerly known as the Amy Biehl Foundation, closed its offices last week until the end of the year following a decision of the Foundation’s board. This followed protests by staff members of the foundation.

Employees of the foundation expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of funding transparency. This came after the foundation retrenched some staff at the Khayelitsha centre because of insufficient funds and the cutting back of programs from five days a week to two days.

“The recent economic downturn in the last few years meant that it has become more and more difficult to raise funds to sustain all our work. We started looking at options for certain projects that were underfunded about eight months ago and, together with staff, considered all the options. We finally decided to scale back on some projects such as Khayelitsha which is unfortunate for staff and for beneficiaries who depend on our services,” says Michelle Bagley, spokesperson for the foundation.

The foundation is a non-profit organisation that offers after-school activities in vulnerable communities and operates from five different centres in Western Cape communities. The activities, which include music skills, gardening activities, academic support and sport, aim to empower youth between the ages of five to 35.

Cayla Murray, spokesperson for Department of Social Development (DSD), confirmed that an onsite visit was conducted by the DSD on 22 November. “The Department is currently concluding a monitoring report initiated in June. If there is any evidence found indicating misappropriation of funds, this will be handed over to the Department of the Premier’s Provincial Forensic Service for a forensic audit,” says Murray.

“They retrenched me because I was told there were no other positions where they could place me. They [management of the Amy Foundation] are closing my centre, and they say there is no need for the centre coordinator,” says Queen Boya, the recently retrenched coordinator of the Khayelitsha centre.

“There was a lot of miscommunication and when they wanted to close the centre they said the Khayelitsha centre costs them much more because it is quite far,” said Boya, who says she financially supports nine children from various families.

Maphelo Batyi, the academic programme coordinator, explains that staff members were contesting retrenchments and the closing of the school. “Instead of listening to our concerns, they [management of the Amy Foundation] started giving us warnings not to contest decisions. Our managing director then suspended four employees who were questioning things in the meeting and asking questions,” says Batyi.

“Staff safety is of utmost importance. That is the reason a decision was taken to close the office earlier than usual. For the time being, the Sybrand Park offices will be closed until further notice until we are able to resolve these issues,” says Bagley.

Cutting down of staff members will mean that some of the programs offered at the Khayelitsha centre will no longer be available. The early closure of the offices and after-school activities also affect the children who attend the centres.

“We have Christmas parties where we give out gifts to the kids, end of the year functions and showcases for some of the programs. So some of the things that the kids have been rehearsing for throughout the year, they can’t actually be a part of,” says Batyi.

CORRECTION: The opening sentence incorrectly stated the reason for the Foundation’s early closure this year. This has been corrected.