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Rollercoaster ride to keep from starvation



Ronan Keating sang, “Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it”, and never before has this been more true than over these past five months. Not an adrenalin junkie myself, I far prefer to be on terra firma than even contemplate bungee jumping, sky diving, or taking a rollercoaster ride.

Yet here we are, unwilling participants on a ride we didn’t sign up for, and our choice is to scream blue murder, or let the ride just take us where it must. When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a three-week lockdown (which turned into five months), I had visions of catching up on Netflix, reading, and enjoying quality family time, but Hashem had other plans. Certainly a very scary ride didn’t feature, although looking back, I’m not sure how I could ever have imagined otherwise.

I have never worked so hard, yet felt so fulfilled. I find it amazing to believe that pre-COVID-19, I thought I knew what busy was. I had no clue. The work we do is hard, yet rewarding. It can kill you, but it also makes you stronger. You lose sleep, but you gain humility and gratitude. You feel stretched to your limit, but you learn so much about resilience.

You see the best and the worst of humanity. You meet incredible people who enrich your life in ways you never thought possible, and you break when you hear about the death of a starving child. What we do is purpose-driven and humbling. I have always maintained that we get far more from giving than our beneficiaries do. How lucky we are to get to take from those who want to give, to give to those who need it most.

When Midnight Oil sang, “How do we sleep when our beds are burning”, it couldn’t have imagined thousands who weren’t only frightened by COVID-19 and being able to feed their starving children, but stressing about how to keep them warm and provide a roof over their heads when the fires came.

We have seen children eating dog food, and babies receiving only water. We have taken flack from our community for not assisting our own, which we most certainly do, and from white squatter camps who feel marginalised.

As much as we wish we could ensure that nobody goes to bed hungry or cold, the reality is that people are dying on our watch, and there is nothing we can do about it. We become emotional when we realise how many millions still need assistance.

To say that we went into overdrive when COVID-19 hit, would be an understatement. Working 15-hour days became the norm, and with no help other than my amazing husband, cleaning, cooking, and laundry became the things I did in the spare time I didn’t have.

Surprisingly, I found it to be far more therapeutic than I would have expected. Our recruitment company certainly took a back seat, and I have relied heavily on my extremely capable business partner and close friend, Leigh Brouze, to hold down the fort.

Personal grooming hasn’t been a priority, and I haven’t had my hair, nails, toes, or eyelashes done in five months. I miss being pampered, and look a sight, which is only a problem when people pop past to drop off things and I find myself apologising for my appearance. Now, I have a few more wrinkles, a little more grey.

Before April, I wouldn’t leave the house without makeup, and certainly wouldn’t have been caught dead in Ugg boots that must have got their name from being so ugly. Now, on the extremely rare occasion that I venture out to get groceries, lipstick isn’t required thanks to our masks, and I honestly forget that I’m in Uggs with no makeup. Truthfully, nobody cares.

Zoom meetings have now become a way of life for us all, and it’s the only time I feel compelled to put on lipstick.

From the start, every day was Monday, as we scrambled to feed hundreds of thousands of people who had no other way of receiving food. Thankfully, Wendy Kahn and the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) chose to partner with us in distributing R9 million from an anonymous donor, something we will be eternally grateful for and humbled by.

This enormously generous donation has helped to save millions from dying of starvation. Our community has always been and continues to be incredibly proactive and generous. Without it, we could never have done what we do. We are also truly grateful to the dozens of ex-South Africans who contribute to our appeals. Before March this year, the biggest single donation received was for R211 000, so I feel a great sense of responsibility to have been entrusted with millions.

Initially, being far too busy even to think of seeing people, five months down the line, I would love nothing more than to visit my ageing mom in Port Elizabeth or host a Shabbos dinner. I crave the smells of freshly chopped liver and roasting lamb that symbolises guests on the way, and I miss our table being full of loved ones and laughter.

My family have been unbelievably supportive, not complaining about how our garage has become the official Angel Network headquarters, or how often the bell rings daily. They do, however, miss time spent together and bemoan how inaccessible I often am.

I may not be baking banana bread or keeping the house spotless from all the hair of our three Labradors, but I do know they appreciate the work I do.

I’m extremely fortunate to have the support of the most amazing team of women who form our executive. I could never do what I do without every one of them on my side and in my corner, fighting the good fight, and I salute them all.

Working closely with more than 45 CANS (community action networks) set up by ourselves and the SAJBD, we have provided millions of meals to people across all nine provinces of our country. We have also assisted more than 150 000 citizens with clothing, and hundreds with housing and education. There are no to-do lists, and we hit the ground running from the moment we open our eyes every morning.

The good, the bad, and the ugly may be the name of an epic Western from the 1960s, but we have certainly seen it firsthand. We have encountered the good in people whose paths we may never have crossed without this pandemic, experienced the bad through corruption, and dishonesty and thieving are the ugly.

This too shall pass, painfully, like a kidney stone, but it will pass, and we will all have to look ourselves in the mirror and know that we did whatever we could with what we had.

I will never, ever use the words “freezing” or “starving” again to describe how cold or hungry I am, having looked into the eyes of those who really were experiencing it. “Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it”.

  • Glynne Wolman is the founder of The Angel Network.

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