What started off as one individual’s initiative to bring about meaningful change in a poor Overstrand community, has grown organically into an increasingly inclusive and holistic development project.
Proportional Councillor, Charmaine Resandt had for some time been concerned about the conditions under which many people in the suburb of Mooi Uitsig in Betty’s Bay were living and wondering what she could do to bring about a sustainable change in their circumstances. She had already been approached by a community mover and shaker called Louise Plaatjies, whose idea was to start a soup kitchen for the needy residents, especially the children. But where would the money come from for the food?
In her spare time, Charmaine is a power walker and she loves to walk in and around beautiful Betty’s Bay. Stepping out one day in February this year she suddenly had a light bulb moment. “All at once, I knew how I could combine my love of walking with fundraising,” she explains, “so I took to Facebook and asked if anybody would be prepared to sponsor me at R10 per kilometre.
“I called the project ‘Walk for Change’ and to my surprise the offers came pouring in. But then, just as it was really taking off, lockdown arrived and my outdoor activities abruptly ground to a halt.” However, by this time Charmaine was on a roll, so she altered the name of the project to ‘Work for Change’ and took to her exercise bike, undertaking to ride a minimum of 5km per week.
Lockdown also brought with it a new problem. With parents out of work, the situation was becoming bad for everybody, but she realised that no one was paying attention to the needs of the babies in the community. The parents couldn’t afford nappies, formula or clothes for the babies, some of whom were newborns. She knew at once this had to take priority.
So while the soup kitchen got under way at the Pikkewyntjies ECD Centre with the assistance of Overstrand Municipality, the Kleinmond Business Chamber, the Narrative Foundation and the Betty’s Bay Ratepayers’ Association, Charmaine took a detour to see to the needs of the babies.
“I’m passionate about protecting our environment,” she says, “and I hate those horrible disposable nappies which take years to biodegrade, so with the help of someone in Bot River, we designed reusable towelling nappies similar in shape to the disposables, with a waterproof outer layer. I saw this as an opportunity, too, to change the mindsets of the mothers and other community members and to make them more environmentally aware.”
Within a remarkably short space of time, Charmaine’s baby group, stretching from Kleinmond to Rooiels, has grown to 275, from newborn to three years of age. Each family is regularly provided with a large bag, consisting of appropriate baby food, six reusable nappies made to her design in Somerset West, toiletries and clothes.
One of the groups of volunteers to come forward with an offer of assistance was a knitting, sewing and crocheting group of Kleinmond ladies, co-ordinated by Marlene Lewis. They make anything from caps, to scarves, booties, crocheted baby blankets and small jerseys and pants for the packs. Attached to each item is a label with a typed blessing for mother and baby.
Through her work for the babies, Charmaine also became aware of four elderly infirm people in the community, as well as two older disabled children, and they now receive similar packs, including over-the-counter medication like cough syrup, when necessary. “This has been the most incredible project I have ever been involved with,” comments Charmaine. “It’s been about ubuntu, about building relationships from the ground up, about community spirit and about giving people their dignity back. It’s not a case of handing out charity, it’s about working together towards a common goal.”
In the meantime, the soup kitchen is still going strong from Monday to Friday each week, providing between 200 and 250 people with a cooked breakfast and lunch. An offshoot of this project has been the establishment of a community vegetable garden, also at Pikkewyntjies, under the supervision of its principal, Zaan Cilliers.
The latest development has been the establishment of a homework centre at the community hall, with the creation of a Wi-Fi hotspot by Ask Security Services. This has given the local children access to online learning material and homework assignments sent by their schools. The venue will also be used to teach older children the basics in skills like photography, film making and trades like plumbing and cabinet making. This centre is run entirely by a committee of volunteers, under the supervision of Charmaine, Fanie Krige, her colleague on the Overstrand Council and Wayne Jackson, a local resident.
“We see all these projects continuing, even after the end of lockdown,” says Charmaine. “There may not be as much need for the soup kitchen after people return to work, but there will always be those who fall through the cracks. We’ve put in the hard yards, but now the community has taken ownership of the project and they are running with it – putting humanity back into humankind, you might say.”
Charmaine can be contacted on 079 885 5022 and if you would like to support the project, the banking details are: Name of account: Blue Wave; Absa Bank (Savings); Account No: 9356386733; Branch Code: 632005; Ref: Donor’s Name.