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COVID-19 turned me from a donator to a doer



My mother is very much a doer. She would venture into the ashrams of India and visit strangers in hospitals to spread love and healing. This year became the time for me to follow in her footsteps – albeit with baby steps.

Before COVID-19, I was one of those who always supported the less fortunate from afar. While I had empathy for the plight of others, I always took the easier road by making monetary donations or contributing to the occasional sandwich drive.

Then came COVID-19, and I realised how truly blessed I am to have enough food on the table, a warm bed, and a safe home with a garden big enough to feel “free” during the lockdown.

I also recognised how important it is to show my children that we could do so much more to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

The opportunity presented itself on 13 April, when one of the many guiding angels in my life, Robyn Smookler, sent out a message to our learning group about getting involved in the Community Action Network (CAN) project.

CAN had just been introduced into Gauteng by the Angel Network and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. They were appealing to people to come forward and register a CAN in their area to support communities that were in desperate need of help.

I decided it was time for me to wake up.

Through my professional journey and close relationship with Mandi Fine over the years, and the work of her communication strategy consultancy F/NE, I knew about the inspiring organisation, Ikageng. Headed by the fearless Carol Dyantyi, this remarkable non-profit organisation supports children in Soweto who have been orphaned or affected by HIV/Aids.

It had been operating as an essential service during lockdown, providing food for hundreds of vulnerable beneficiaries. With food security being especially important for those on ARV (antiretroviral) treatment, it was crucial to get food to them over lockdown.

F/NE’s non-profit upliftment wing, F/NE For Good, was already supporting Ikageng strategically with COVID-19 communication and networking, but it desperately needed support to fund food and other essential items. I decided I couldn’t help from afar any longer, and registered CAN Ikageng on 20 April.

We immediately started collecting from various drop-off points around Johannesburg, including in Orchards and Glenhazel (headed by another angel – my sister-in-law Ruth Lasarow). The Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre opened its basement as an additional collection point, and Selpal came on board to assist with delivering weekly parcels to Soweto.

These generous partnerships ensured that Ikageng could continue the extraordinary work that it has been doing for the past 20 years.

CAN Ikageng continued to grow through the guidance, nurturing, and encouragement of so many angels, including Glynne Wolman and her wonderful team from the Angel Network.

Nicky Barnes, beyond being an incredible support, also led to the evolution of CAN Ikageng into Illovo CAN Ikageng, and brought in the generous Illovo community, as well as a partnership with Thrupps & Co.

As the months have passed, the constant and unwavering support of our incredible Illovo CAN Ikageng team leaders: Andrea Orlin, Julie Treger, and Nicky Barnes, as well as Kim Nates from F/NE For Good who continues to provide strategic guidance, has ensured that our CAN is in a position to keep much-needed essentials coming in.

It has been an incredible gift to work with all these women as well as the greater CAN communities in Gauteng. All of them prove daily how small things really can make a huge difference. Together we help to heal each other to push through these challenging times to ensure that our community will come out the other end stronger and with more love and hope for the future.

Most importantly, I learnt that life is too short to sit on the fence. I needed to jump off and get involved. This is what we are here to do.

  • Tanya Kahanovitz is an independent consultant specialising in project management and systems.

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