All hands on deck to help impoverished communities during pandemic
Prior to the arrival of the coronavirus in the country almost a year ago, Fatima Khoele-Nokaba was running a successful day care centre near her home in KwaThema, Springs.
But the Covid-19 pandemic quickly annihilated her business, as the country was forced to remain in their homes for months at a time as a result of lockdown restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus.
“Many of the children’s parents lost their jobs and some who were in the informal sector like street vendors were unable to work.”
This meant that many of the kids had to be removed from Khoele-Nokaba’s care and while this meant her finances took a severe dip, she knew she had to do something to help her community.
“When some of the lockdown restrictions were lifted, I started looking after some of the kids free of charge when their parents had to go out and find work and some returned to work but still didn't have money to pay the creche fees.”
“Some of these kids parent’s only source of income is grant money and it didn't feel right for them to use this money to pay for child care when they could barely afford food to eat.
But the mother of three, was desperate to do even more to help her impoverished community which was suffering with high levels of poverty and unemployment.
She contacted The Teddy Bear foundation, and together they started dispersing food parcels to those in dire need in KwaThema.
“We also do weekly bread and soup drop offs and make meals for the children.
“Their parents are so grateful for this because they say that sometimes this is the only food they get for that day.”
The Teddy Bear Clinic director Shaheda Omar explained to The Saturday Star this week that they had to slightly alter their original mandate in order to help dire children and their families during the pandemic.
“Our core mandate is to work with traumatised kids who have experienced some form of abuse and violence, but with the lockdown, we decided to try and provide substance to families in the form of food parcels.
“We can't help traumatised children right now unless we first see to their immediate needs like that of food.”’
While The Teddy Bear Clinic was not necessarily funded to provide meal sustenance, they took it upon themselves to start an internal food collection drive and also appeal for help for corporates.
It appeared this new work the organisation was doing during the lockdown in areas like KwaThema had a knock-on effect and Omar and her team were soon inundated with requests for food assistance.
“Many of the communities were severely impoverished even before Covid-19 and the lockdown made matters even worse because it restricted informal employment and meant that those in many sectors could not work at all for months at a time,” Omar explained.
She added that just like was the case with Khoele-Nokaba, the general sentiment in communities that she visited was that of despair, helplessness and desperation for staple items like food.
“We also started handing out masks because we feel like it is an insult to communities who can’t even buy bread to now expect them to buy a face mask.”
Another interesting trend Omar discovered in her new-found community work was that women were more likely to ask for assistance than men.
“From the requests we received from communities, there has been overwhelming and compelling evidence to suggest that women have been at the forefront of supporting their families and communities.
“Men often feel ashamed and emasculated about not being able to feed their families and see it as not being able to fulfil their patriarchal responsibilities.
While the Covid-19 lockdown excavated poverty in impoverished communities, Omar insisted that this is a multi faced dilemma which requires a mult-discpinanry approach.
“From the government, to corporates and NGOs, everyone has a part to play in this,” she said.