Annalisa Contrafatto -
“The day at Wolwerivier turned out to be wonderful, fantastic and heart-warming. I was so surprised at the children, they were incredibly well mannered and so grateful for everything. They offered help without us asking for anything and everything. They were just amazing, from their willingness to learn the bead and craft making that was originally planned only for the adults… They jumped right in and wanted to learn. I was also so blown away with the volunteer staff at Wolwerivier, they are incredible teachers and they were just amazing with the kids. The smiles and hugs I received warmed my soul to the bitter end, I will forever hold those little ones in my heart”.
This is what Lara Trefz is taking home with her after spending a Saturday morning in the community of Wolwerivier, on the outskirts of Cape Town. Lara and her colleagues from Thomson Reuters took part to a volunteer opportunity on the theme of reducing poverty, organised by the company in partnership with non-profit organisation SAVE – South African Volunteer Experience.
The day revolved around two main activities: an up-cycling workshop aimed specifically at the women, where discarded items were re-purposed and transformed in useful and marketable items, and a clean-up of the community vegetable garden, which was created two years ago with the involvement of Thomson Reuters’ volunteers.
Nicolette Joubert, together with other volunteers, conducted the craft workshop: fifteen ladies and over 20 children attended, and the older children seemed to really enjoy taking on the task of making paper beads! The volunteers demonstrated how to make paper beads using old paper and magazines, as well as how to make bags/purses/pencil bags out of chips packets, just using zips, duct tape and staples. Both the activities are sustainable activities as the main products used to make the items are recyclable waste items, and we often see similar products for sale at various markets in the more touristic areas of Cape Town.
Learning how to create those objects is the first step of a process; once perfected this skill, the women can decide if they want to use it to make items for themselves, or rather produce items for the market, to obtain additional income. Of course placing their creations on the market is not as easy as it may seem, and this is an aspect that falls heavily on the partner non-profit organization, South African Volunteer Experience. SAVE works with the community of Wolwerivier every day of the year, and Thomson Reuters’s volunteers count on them to facilitate access to the market for those ladies that may decide to sell their products.
The energy and enthusiasm of the kids, who wanted to join the workshop even if the volunteers had a more playful plan for them, surprised everyone. But a volunteer also commented that a not-so-nice surprise was “the distance from civilization>”. She remembers thinking: “Where are these people meant to find jobs, let alone get there?”. Wolwerivier is in fact a settlement relatively easy to reach by car, but poorly serviced by public transport, a factor that makes everyday activities such as buying groceries, going to the doctor or looking for employment really hard.
The volunteers not involved in the up-cycling workshop spent their time cleaning up the vegetable garden. This was seriously hard work, made worse by the dismal of seeing the once lush garden reduced to almost nothing by the drought that hit the Western Cape region this year. The situation in Cape Town is so serious that in March, mayor Patricia de Lille declared the city a disaster zone to accelerate the development of emergency water schemes. For months there has been a strong campaign to save water, with dam levels currently at 14% of usable water. Cleaning up the vegetable garden is one step towards preparing it for sowing again in view of the rain season (which will, hopefully, start soon). Unfortunately the volunteers did not manage to complete the work in the allocated time, and will probably go back soon to finish it.
“I loved how both the adults and the children were enjoying the skills workshop and the attitude of all the volunteers” – says Thomson Reuters’ employee Kirsti-Leigh Adams when asked to comment on the day. Her colleague Wendy Jacobs continues: “Something positive that stayed with me is how close the women are to each other and to the kids. They seem like a tight-knit community”. Linda Michel, the volunteer who first introduced Thomson Reuters to SAVE and to the Wolwerivier community three years ago, comments: “I really enjoyed seeing the joy on the faces of the ladies when they mastered their first bead”. And continues: “(I am) not really surprised, but more saddened to see how the drought had destroyed the beautiful vegetable garden”.
All the volunteers involved would love to take part to another engagement opportunity in Wolwerivier, mentioning skills workshops activities and the vegetable garden as the core areas in which they would like to work. Some volunteers are also willing to assist the teachers of Sunshine Educare (that made their spaces available for the up-cycling workshop) with reading, or any other activity that would empower the women and the community. There are also plans to organise a clothes and blanket drive for the Educare, since winter is approaching.
Thinking about the overall experience, volunteer Lauren Johnson says:“Looking at the kids running around with their painted faces with not a care in the world despite their circumstances was a very humbling experience. The thought that my contribution, no matter how little, will be appreciated by the people of Wolwerivier is extremely rewarding and it motivates me to do more”.