The plight of the homeless has come under the spotlight in Durban as we head into the holiday season. Volunteers Davesh Arulappan and Lerise Chetty from the Volunteers from Blessed Liberat Catholic Church in Newlands West and Bongani Madida prepare meals for the homeless. Tomorrow the reconciliation meal will be a grand affair. Leon Lestrade African News Agency (ANA )
Durban - Bongani Magagasi Madida is looking forward to tomorrow when he will sit at a table and enjoy a hot meal at the Denis Hurley Centre.

The 43-year-old is well-spoken, neatly dressed and friendly, which makes it hard to believe that he is homeless.

Madida moved from Johannesburg to Durban in search of a better life, but soon found that the grass is not always greener on the other side.

“I came to Durban in 2014, without a plan. I left my home hoping that I would find work and be able to send money home, but little did I know that the city would be unkind, swallow me then spit me out.

“I got depressed and ended up doing all sorts of drugs to numb me from the pain of my new reality of living on the streets”, he said.

During that year, a homeless friend told him about the centre’s free meals.

Ever since, he looks forward to the Day of Reconciliation.

“On this day, we get to sit at the table and have a proper meal. It’s not like other feeding schemes where you have to stand in queues waiting for food.

“A sit-down meal gives a person dignity, it makes a homeless person feel good. What’s more special, is that we get to interact with people who are not homeless and they don’t judge us. It’s like sitting with your friends and family”, he said.

Madida will be among more than 400 other homeless people at the centre.

Organising member of the event, Raymond Perrier, said the annual “Meal of Reconciliation” initiative was created with the purpose of reconciling humanity through sharing a meal and putting aside differences, including those physical and financial.

Perrier described the Day of Reconciliation meal as almost a vision of heaven, where everyone from all walks of life, regardless of their circumstances come together and enjoy a meal together.

“The difference with all our meals is that we do not go and dish the food to homeless people at the back of a van. Our approach is more intimate and dignified.

“We do not make homeless people eat food we would not eat or eat in places where we would not eat.”

Perrier said it was a chance, not just to serve a meal, but to share a meal.

“You could find yourself sitting with a homeless person on one side and a bishop or ambassador on the other”, said Perrier.

Rishma Singh, 58, is a volunteer at the centre. Singh, who is herself homeless, has helped to prepare the meals for the past two years. She said being part of the initiative gave her satisfaction.

“It puts smiles on the people's faces and this, in turn, makes us happy. Quite a few people who eventually leave the streets tell us that the centre and their work makes their lives easier,” she said.

As someone who lives on the streets, Singh knows what receiving a meal means to homeless people.

Denis Hurley Centre volunteer Girly Allen, 83, from Bonela, said she had dedicated her life to the centre since the early 1980s in order to give back to her church and help people less fortunate than her.

“I think the main reason I decided to volunteer at the centre is that anyone can end up homeless,” said Allen.

Allen said there is no greater joy than being able to feed people, especially women with young children.

Sunday Tribune