Corporate Social Investment

Blankets for needy communities

The CSI handed out welcome warm blankets and hot meals to residents of KwaMashu and informal settlements in Pietermaritzburg, proving that they were not forgotten.

August 8, 2012

Blankets are hand out to the needy in KwaMashuBlankets are hand out to the needy in KwaMashu

One of the Corporate Social Investment unit's responsibilities is to contribute towards improving the lives of the needy. To this end, the unit handed out blankets and hot meals to underprivileged residents of KwaMashu and Pietermaritzburg, proving that they were not forgotten.

On 26 July, needy members of KwaMashu community, in northern Durban, were given blankets at the KwaMashu Christian Care Society (KCCS), which was a hive of activity, packed with people of all ages, from young children to the elderly.

For the handover, some of the elderly gathered in a room, where they praised the IDC for its help and clapped, ululated and sang songs of joy. As it happened, the Robin Hood Foundation was there on the same day, handing out 400 very large food parcels. "It's like Christmas and New Year together," remarked one of the matrons.

The KCCS plays an important and effective role in the community. It began way back in 1979, driven by Professor Sam Ross of the University of Natal. He had been visiting KwaMashu to give medical help to residents, but he found that many of them came to him in a poor state, dirty and in need of some basic care. Going from house to house where the help was needed proved ineffective, so Ross suggested that a community centre needed to be built.

Assistance for the needy

Thanks to support from Rotary International and Rotary Club of Berea, Durban, the first building, able to house 30 people, was built. Since then, many more charities have assisted the KCCS – their names are to be found on a board in the entrance to the original building – helping it to grow and to provide excellent service to those in need.

Ross, no longer a young man, is still involved with the KCCS, of which he is an honorary life president. Back when he helped start the society, university students assisted him. Nowadays, nursing students serve at the KCCS as part of their practical training.

The centre's current capacity is 150 people, but that will rise to 220 people when a building currently under construction is finished and upgrades to existing buildings are completed. There is a day care section for children and another day care section for the elderly, where they get to take part in group and individual activities, or even simply sit and watch television.

A kitchen serves meals to the patients and the nurses, and there is a community outreach programme that does much more. It provides meals to people on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 16 centres in KwaMashu. It is truly the kind of organisation upon which a community is built.

With people like these doing the work they do, South Africa has every chance of improving itself, day by day.

Hot meals

The previous day, the CSI was in Pietermaritzburg where the unit handed out welcome warm blankets and hot meals to residents of three informal settlements.

The older members of the communities of Ash Road, Nhlanganweni and Alice were the lucky, chosen recipients of soft, super-sized winter blankets, which brought not only smiles, but also drew the happy sounds of celebratory ululating from some. As the handing out of blankets began, men, women and children gathered around keenly but quietly, waiting to hear their names called, before happily moving forward to receive the welcome gifts.

With an average late evening and early morning winter temperature in Pietermaritzburg of around 4 degrees centigrade, the weather at this time of the year is more than fresh. It's cold. In many ways, these communities are forgotten. They remain informal settlements, even though it is 20 years since they began to take shape.

Most of the families that have lived in them for a long time arrived as refugees from the political violence that plagued some areas of KwaZulu-Natal just before South Africa's first democratic election in 1994. Through the following decades, the informal settlements have remained, but have grown. Jobs are scarce, but hope for a better life and a strong community spirit exist.

Hope for work

Some residents have been helped to move elsewhere, but many choose to stay because there are factories nearby and if casual labour is required, they are available to work. These are not lazy people; they are constantly looking for opportunities and dreaming up initiatives, hoping for someone with insight to come along and help them launch and drive their ideas.

Being informal settlements means there is no permanent housing. Rather, there are temporary houses or mud huts.

Electricity is in short supply, the removal of refuse is intermittent and many toilets require maintenance. There are many unemployed people. But because of this, they help one another. If a family has food, they share with those who do not because one day they might be without, which is when they will be assisted.

Many people make money by scouring rubbish dumps, finding newspaper, cardboard, tins and newspapers, which they recycle. This might be an underprivileged community, but they understand recycling and the effects of refuse on the environment.

Money for much-needed items such as good, warm winter blankets is in short supply, but thankfully for these communities, help was on hand on this day from the Industrial Development Corporation.

The key focuses of the IDC's corporate social investment are education, sustainable livelihoods and special interventions. Wednesday's support fell into the latter category.

Make a difference

The corporate social investment programmes take place throughout the year. Many instances of support are not big, flashy matters and draw only a handful of media types, but they make a difference and they provide hope and a reminder for communities such as Ash Road, Nhlanganweni and Alice that they are not forgotten, that someone somewhere, in this case IDC has remembered them and wanted to make a difference in their lives.

Tuck shop owner Khumbulani Gamede, 31, said the temporary housing in Nhlanganweni was hot in summer and cold in winter. The blankets, he said, would help the older members of the community.

Cindy Ngubane, 30, is one of six health workers who serve and live in the community. She said those who lived there were thankful for any and all help they received. "We are very happy to receive this help," she said, "but we hope that this connection continues."

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