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Saving a school tennis coach from being homeless

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TALI FEINBERG

On the day that Dani Silbermann and Julia Marcus heard about him, he was about to be evicted, landing back on the streets that he had fought so hard to escape. Although he had worked at King David Schools, he was not employed by them, and didn’t want to reach out to them for help.

Silbermann heard about his plight from a mother in the community. Thanks to her new initiative with Marcus, Aloan Together, they were able to help him with funds after they put out a call to the community.

“The response was unbelievable. We literally raised the funds overnight. People couldn’t stop raving about this menschedike man who pulled himself out of poverty and found tennis to be his calling,” says Silbermann. “One mother said he used to buy her son a Coke after every tennis lesson, out of his own pocket. Another said her child idolised him. Many said their kids saw him as a ‘big brother’ or mentor.

“We got donations ranging from R50 to R5 000. Children donated their pocket money. Our community stepped up and took Nicholas under their wing. People offered him a place to stay, a tennis court to work from, and coaching for their kids. Donations came from Australia, England, and New Zealand. People who had finished school years ago remembered him and donated.”

Ngoma now has a secure future, and the funds will also contribute to his advancement in tennis coaching accreditation with Tennis South Africa. “All we did was create the platform. Without our community opening their hearts and wallets, we wouldn’t have been able to help him,” say Silbermann and Marcus.

Their initiative began when Silbermann was thinking about the individuals who would lose their single-person businesses and income streams as South Africa went into lockdown. In her mind were the people she interacts with on a daily basis, such as Uber drivers or beauticians.

“I was thinking about the sectors most affected by the overnight shutdown in their ability to earn, and was most struck by individual income earners that rely solely on their self-created trade. These people survive day to day, their sole access to income their particular trade,” she says.

“For example, the Uber driver who has stretched himself to finance a car and create a micro-business suddenly can’t drive under lockdown, which means he can’t pay his car instalments. What then? It made me profoundly sad. This is the forgotten sector,” says Silbermann.

She saw no other option but to help such individuals. Realising she couldn’t do it alone, she called on the only person she knew who would take on such a task without question – her childhood best friend, Julia Marcus, a senior strategy manager at AIA Health, who lives in Melbourne.

“I’m quick to get overly invested and dive head in without much pragmatism,” says Silbermann. “So I knew I needed Julia to make it a viable reality. She’s the smartest person I know. Our skill sets work well together.”

Marcus agreed without hesitation, and within days, they had set up Aloan Together: A partnership of mutual dignity – “a platform whereby everyday people lend to everyday people, so that these individuals can survive and recover from the loss of income and future uncertainty that threatens everything they have built”.

Since the women began this work in April, they have secured 12 loans for South Africans in need. “Not one of these people has just accepted the help without question. Every single one has such pride in what they have built, and promises to do their best to pay back the loan in time so that someone else can be helped,” says Silbermann.

They identify individuals who need help, and do a thorough background check. Silbermann manages the marketing and social media to raise the funds needed, while Marcus handles the financial side. “Together we balance each other out!”

Talking to the SA Jewish Report from Melbourne, Marcus explains why this cause is so important to her even though she is so far away. “I remain deeply connected to South Africa, and I will always be committed to contributing to the well-being and success of its people. South Africa has given me so much, and will always be a place I call home.

“During a major economic crisis, one can’t help but feel a pull to help the most vulnerable. While there are so many incredible initiatives and charities doing amazing work at the moment, there are still so many people with nowhere to turn, and I want to do what I can to help.

“The sector we have focused on is un-salaried, low-income earners, many of whom fall through the cracks between support funds, non-profit organisations, and government-relief schemes,” she says. “It’s devastating to think of this sector, whose members are active contributors to the economy and usually earn their own income, but are now facing crippling financial hardship due to being unable to earn at all. It’s crucial to sustain them through the crisis, and help them to retain their ability to earn an income so that once the COVID-19 crisis passes, they can go back to earning a living.”

She explains that the loans are raised through crowdfunding, where “many small contributions come together to have a profound impact on someone’s life. In this way, we can unlock the barriers to accessing traditional loans that would usually prevent this sector from the short-term funding they need.

“The loan concept is central to the structure. Not only does providing an interest-free loan create a genuine partnership of mutual dignity, but the same amount of money can go a lot further. We work on a pay-it-forward system, which means that loans that are repaid can be re-invested into the fund [if the sponsor elects to do so], and the same initial contribution can be used to help the next person in need. And so the cycle goes. In this way, a given amount of money can help a multiple of the number of people a once-off donation can.”

“I didn’t know people cared about me,” Ngoma says. “Things were very bad, but now I’m okay. I really appreciate everything.”

Aloan Together will keep going as more people reach out for help. To the South African Jewish community, its founders say a “profound thank you. It’s a privilege to fundraise with you.”

To support this initiative, visit www.aloannotalone.co.za

  • If a member of the Jewish community needs financial assistance, please approach the Chevrah Kadisha, the Rambam Trust, or the newly established Gesher Fund.

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