Realising the heartwarming good that is being done

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As the coronavirus crisis deepens, our locked-down community has come together (at a distance) with cash donations and acts of solidarity that are spreading hope to desperate people far and wide.
by NICOLA MILTZ | Apr 30, 2020

With the endless drumbeat of morbid stories and pictures of pain and suffering, communal organisations and ordinary people in the community are making an extraordinary impact.

The SA Jewish Report this week went into the dark heart of extreme poverty to see where the community’s cash, kindness, and compassion lands up.

The journey begins at the Children’s Memorial Institute (CMI) in Braampark, Johannesburg. On an icy cold Freedom Day, a motley gathering of inner-city dwellers arrives for their week’s supply of ePap – a pre-cooked porridge powder made from whole grain maize and soya bean with added vitamins and minerals.

“This is where I get my power,” says Lukholo Ndlangalavu, 23, a slender-built boxer who attends Fight With Insight, an inner-city community boxing project for young kids (many of them offenders) who live rough in nearby Hillbrow. It uses boxing to teach life skills.

Dressed in a floor-length black leather jacket and black mask and beanie, Luke Lamprecht, a well-known child activist and the director of Fight With Insight, takes charge. He calls out the names of his athletes first, carefully taking each one’s temperature – fever being the tell-tale sign of coronavirus – and then logs their weight.

“It’s a Dali-esque landscape,” says Lamprecht, who hands out “let me pass” cards to the kids in case they are harassed by law-enforcement officers on their way to him.

“How’s this for irony: a pass on Freedom Day! They are ‘born free’, but where are their rights now – the right to food, shelter, and education?” he asks.

He moves onto mothers with babies on their backs – people somehow connected to the CMI, which is a community hub for child health and well-being consisting of several non-governmental organisations that provide specialist services to vulnerable children and their families.

A group of desperate car window washers, waste recyclers, and nyaope addicts who have emerged from the nearby Pieter Roos Park in filthy rags have also come for a hand-out. They have no income under lockdown, and are clearly desperate.

“By each of us doing our little bit, we can truly help each other a lot during this pandemic,” says Marilyn Herson Bassin of Boikanyo The Dion Herson Foundation, who is there to help with the ePap handout. Generous community donations have enabled ePap to reach far flung places, she says.

“By the end of this week, 19 000 people – many in rural areas – will have received ePap. Without it, many would surely starve to death.”

She shows us a photograph of people lining up in the township of Acornhoek in Bushbuckridge to receive their packets of fortified porridge. “Some walked for 20km,” she says. “This is where the donations have spread to.”

Next, we make our way through the eerily quiet streets of a locked-down Hillbrow, where young, homeless men beg and scrounge for anything. Further along, there is an air of wild expectation in Kliptown, Soweto, the spot where the Freedom Charter was signed in 1955. The collateral damage of coronavirus deprivation is clearly visible here.

Generous parcels of food are handed out on this day, and excited, hopeful children have gathered to watch.

Here, you can clearly see the goodwill of Gauteng suburbs reaching across the great social divide through the Collective Action Networks (CAN) initiative.

Resident Portia Mokgethi has proudly offered her home as the collection point for the parcel handout. She wants to be involved. She keeps her home spotless in a losing battle against the surrounding squalor of porta loos, illegal electrical connections, and shared water taps.

“I want to open a soup kitchen when this corona is finished. That’s why I have opened my house to help,” she says with pride.

It’s in her yard that large green dustbin bags containing groceries, packed by dedicated members of our community, are handed out to 30 local families. They have been carefully selected by local man-on-the-ground community activist, Sithembiso Yingwane, 37, who “knows exactly where help is needed most”.

Yingwane set up the non-profit company, Freedom Charter Foundation, in Kliptown, and says he has a hard time sleeping at night when there are so many mouths to feed.

He has earmarked those most in need, and drawn up a list of recipients.

“It is hard to turn people away, but I’m honest with them. I say this isn’t from the government, this is from communities in Joburg who will help us again, and you will get your turn.”

Resigned residents walk away empty handed, hoping they will make it onto his next list.

According to Glynne Wolman of the Angel Network, there are about 55 CANS operating in Johannesburg, of which 40 are being run by members of the (Jewish) community.

“The response has been incredible. People either want to be a team member of a CAN, or they want to be a volunteer. While it might feel like a drop in the ocean because there are so many people to feed, thousands are being fed through the CAN initiative,” she says.

The Angel Network has partnered with companies like Fruvas and KitKat Cash & Carry in a collaboration called Gauteng Together. They are involved primarily in making and delivering food parcels to the value of about R350, which can help to feed a family of four for two weeks.

“While the work is unbelievably rewarding and purpose driven, it’s also backbreaking and soul destroying. The stories are endless, as is the need,” Wolman says.

But on this day, many in Kliptown will go to bed feeling content.

“I’m so happy,” says one mother who wishes to remain anonymous. “Now I can sleep knowing my children won’t cry from hunger.”

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