When the chips are down in a crisis, needy communities look to the NPOs (Non-profit organisations) on the ground for help. These are the service providers at grassroots level who work with them through good times and bad; they understand the communities’ unique circumstances and they have a human face.
Yet the crucial role these organisations play, often with very few resources and at great personal sacrifice is seldom recognised by society as a whole. It is frequently only in times of disaster that the spotlight falls on them.
The Overstrand has been richly endowed with NPOs, both large and small, and to an extent they form the backbone of community life. Many of them rely on volunteers to carry out their mandate and they all acknowledge their enormous debt of gratitude to the citizens of this region for their sustained support.
Characteristically, NPO workers are agile, adaptable, innovative and resilient, which has been amply demonstrated during the current pandemic. The Village NEWS spoke to only five of the hundred-plus organisations active in our region to find out how the Coronavirus had affected these selfless social entrepreneurs.
Kleinmond Child Welfare
Director, Theresa Els says in many ways they had to rethink their entire modus operandi during lockdown. “The 26 children from 3 – 12 years of age in our Children’s Home went into total lockdown and their carers moved in with them to avoid infection,” she explains. “Although the children have coped remarkably well, keeping them busy and entertained all this time has been very stressful for the staff, as you can imagine.
“The ECD and after-school centres we manage had to close down, of course, but our teachers were worried about the welfare of the children, so since the beginning of May they have all been running soup kitchens and the teachers have been able to check on their children and give them activities to do at home.
“Many of the families don’t have computers, so we’ve been downloading schoolwork for the children at the after-school centre, photocopying it and letting them have it when they come to the soup kitchen. One of our biggest problems, though, is that most of the parents have stopped paying their fees, which leaves us in a serious financial crunch.”
They have had to suspend the regular educational sessions they run at the schools, but the social workers have been going into the communities to speak to families about how to manage the restrictions and keep healthy and safe. Fortunately, there have been few reports of child abuse since the start of lockdown; that is, until the ban on alcohol was lifted, when there were four within the first week.
“The most difficult thing for me, personally,” says Theresa, “is the uncertainty. Trying to plan ahead is very difficult, but we are making use of the opportunity to streamline our management systems and rethink our approach to some of our child-centred programmes.”
According to Manager, Fran Tong, at any one time, Hospice provides palliative care to between 60 and 70 home-based patients. Contrary to popular perception, not all of them are cancer patients; they work with the whole spectrum of life-threatening diseases. They have a good relationship with both hospitals in Hermanus, but Fran says during lockdown, they have had fewer referrals from them than usual, possibly because Covid-19 demands their full attention at the moment.
“Illness, especially if it is terminal, is very isolating for patients,” points out Fran, “and the double isolation of lockdown is making it even more difficult. Unfortunately, just when their need for regular visits from our nursing staff is greatest, they and their families tend to be very nervous about infection, despite the extensive protocols we have in place. This means that most of our current contact is telephonic, which is not ideal. The personal relationship we like to build up with patients and their families is a very important component of their care.”
Fran mentions that the free service they offer means that the need for funding is always top of their agenda. She is very relieved that their charity shop has been able to re-open at last, as this is a major source of income. As she says, “running an NGO is not for the faint-hearted in this tough economic climate, but I do want to express my deep appreciation to the citizens of Hermanus for their ongoing and generous support.”
The Butterfly Centre for children with special needs
Fifteen mainly autistic children had only just moved into their beautiful new school on the Stanford Hills Wine Estate, when it had to be closed for the lockdown. Jamie Kastner, Founder of the Butterfly Foundation says some of the children have found it difficult to understand why they have to stay at home and can’t play with their friends, but their teachers are in constant contact with them by WhatsApp and phone.
“They have kept them supplied with printed worksheets and projects they can do at home,” says Jamie. The children have even been given physical exercises to do, because it’s important to keep them active. Where the parents are able to facilitate the learning process, they do, but if they get stuck they know they always have access to the teachers.
“We don’t yet know when the children will be able to return to school, probably in about three months’ time, but it will have to be a phased process, starting with the older children. Those who are immuno-compromised will probably come back last. In the meantime, we are so grateful to the Grootbos Foundation for sponsoring all the PPE we’ll need for both teachers and children, so we’re preparing everything and as soon as we get the green light from government, we’ll be good to go.”
A branch of this humanitarian organisation was established in Hermanus in 1957, making it one of the oldest NPOs in the region. Worldwide, one of its primary functions is to facilitate disaster relief. During this period it has, therefore, been fully involved in helping to fund and participate in the Disaster Management programme to supply food to needy community members.
It’s vitally important that projects of this kind be properly coordinated and so other voluntary organisations like Food4Love, Relief Life, Rotary and some of the churches are also fully integrated into the provision of food parcels, as well as food for soup kitchens (about 26 in Zwelihle and Mount Pleasant alone).
“I’m happy to say,” says Red Cross Chairperson, Angela Heslop, “that everything is being meticulously documented and monitored and once the project comes to an end, the data will be captured and we will be able to do a thorough analysis of all aspects of the programme – what worked and what didn’t. One of our problems has for instance been the logistics of food delivery; while the municipality made a car available for the purpose, it didn’t provide fuel.”
When this crisis has run its course, she is also keen to continue discussions with the municipality regarding the establishment in each suburb of a disaster management group which Red Cross will train in relevant skills like burns treatment, safety first, fire drills, etc. “I feel very strongly that we’ve passed the stage of charity handouts; it’s got to be about empowering people to be proactive in acquiring new skills and taking the initiative to implement them. But that is for later. For now, we take it one week at a time.”
The Youth Café and RDP Centre, Zwelihle
William Ntebe is a co-founder of this multi-faceted project. One of these, pre-lockdown, was the distribution of food to about 100 indigent people in Zwelihle. During lockdown, after many more people had lost their jobs or had their wages cut, they are now delivering food packs to 1 800 people and in addition running a soup kitchen providing one cooked meal a day for 1 250 people.
“It has been the most incredible learning experience for me,” says William. “So many volunteers have come together from all communities to fill the gap (25 each day from Zwelihle alone). Yes, there have been mistakes, but we have learnt from them. The most important thing is simply ‘being the light in the darkness’. Everyone, rich and poor has had something to contribute. Being social animals, we also felt the need to lift people’s spirits when they visit the centre, so from time to time, we see that they get a treat, especially the seniors. We’ve handed out yoghurt, fruit juices, Coke; we have even had a singer to entertain them.”
Another way they have been able to contribute has been to print out TERS application forms, helping 3 000 applicants to fill them in and then hand-delivering them to the Department of Labour’s offices in Somerset West.
“My greatest hope is that we will be able to carry this sense of togetherness forward after Covid-19,” continues William. “If we are to survive as a country, this spirit of unity (us/we) is what is needed. Everything is easier if we can pool our resources, ideas, energy and hope for the future. Speaking for myself, I feel incredibly privileged to have had this opportunity to be involved.”