In a world gripped by Covid, we are all struggling, in our own way.
The day has been one of torrential rain, gales so fierce it is difficult to go outside. I am safe and warm in my home, but I am also in a country that many are facing starvation – poverty so dire, it is difficult to imagine the sheer extent of it all.
So tonight I write, not of pretty gardens or far off beautiful places, but of what is happening, right here, right now. And the heart is breaking for those who fight the elements of the fiercest cold, and the most desperate of hunger. The predicament has always been here, but perhaps Covid has brought the plight of the homeless and destitute to the fore.
Began for me, oh dear, staying longer than expected in South Africa, and making the best of it. What to do, get though this, until I could fly back to London.
I felt very sorry for myself. How to pass the time and I have no work here. Do a little decorating, work in the garden … wait it out. Then I found, by chance, a group of women who were making sandwiches for children who were now, not getting a meal at school, for schools have been closed. Make a few sandwiches, they asked, help these children have at least one meal a day in their bellies.
I can do that, I thought. Make my own little contribution. Toss in a bag of oranges, or two. Every week I made sandwiches, peanut butter sandwiches ( peanut butter is more nourishing) and happily deposited my bags of charity at the point of collection. Once a week. Keeping the distance.
If I could post some of the pictures of the children, and adults, receiving packages of basic food, I would. But I won’t, for their sakes. They are lovely, the utter gratitude, but also the real ‘picture’ of hunger, and fear. They do not need to be put on social media, or this post, and I will respect them.
This amazing, and generous, group of women has grown to the stage where nearly two thousand sandwiches are made every week. As is, the need for other basics became evident. Blankets, clothes, diapers, plastic, drinking water and even just something like tampons were top of the list. A handicapped child was found in a squatter camp, his mother trying her best. We were made aware, hospital visit arranged, a wheelchair donated by funds from children, parents, anyone who could help. Still I thought, do what I can, from a distance.
I was asked to visit a squatter camp, to take photographs for a newsletter, for a charity. Was reluctant. It’s one thing helping out, and quite another, getting up close. Feelings of dread, not wanting to seriously engage. I did go. There are people, of all races, living under plastic sheets, hoping against hope for a wooden structure, a steel container, anything to protect them from the elements. There is no race issue here, only one of survival. In the most basic form. The most basic act of just getting through the next hour, the next day.
And I thought. How did you get to this? How can you not make something of yourselves, seriously, is there no job, or self help scheme to lift you from this desolate state? As I began to speak to a few living there, there isn’t. Zenophobia excludes help. A few are trying to earn a few cents by begging at stoplights, making scarves and jewellery, selling plants they have gathered in the mountains behind them. Yet, everyone I spoke to was strangely calm, hopeful and grateful. Can I just say, I felt so small.
I would love to post pictures of the smiles on those children’s faces when they received a peanut butter sandwich. I cannot.
The pandemic has prevented many from going to work. I worried about getting more wine. Africa is Africa and poverty will always be here I suppose, but now, in this time, people are willing to risk getting Covid rather than starving. They will risk the disease instead. In becoming involved, I have seen the elderly grasp at a parcel of soup mix, children running for bread, mothers crying quietly with resignation, others huddled against the cold. Under plastic, crates, makeshift corrugated iron sheets. And still helping others.
Around the world, statues are going down, anti racism protests, political chaos. Dare I say it, but there are do-gooders who shout for a while, and go back home. They should come here and see the volunteers who risk their own health, and at times safety, to go into townships and squatter camps to feed and nurse the worst hit by the lockdown. Quietly – in all weather.
I would love to post the pictures. I won’t. I will honour those who think a tin of beans is a gift.
As the rain beats down, and the winds lift the tiles, I think of those who need a blanket, and a peanut butter sandwich.
As they say, keep safe, but also, keep giving. Give in any way your can.