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‘They have gained back their dignity’

An example of community development in South Africa’s Eastern Cape

Up in the hills, some miles beyond the city of East London there lies Biko Village. It comprises a number of small government-built houses set in hilly countryside with few public services other than water and electricity. It has no metalled roads, there is no public transport, there are two very small shops and there is little work in the vicinity. In the Eastern Cape 57% of the population live in poverty, classified locally as living on less than 158 per month. 43% of the Eastern Cape’s population die of AIDs related diseases, (ecsecc, 2012). Life expectancy is 56, (Stats SA. 2013:10).

Against a background that matches, or is worse, than these statistics, pastors Lenford Moshani and his wife Pumza came to settle in Biko Village in 2008 to help local people both practically and spiritually. They started with a Sunday school, but soon found that the many children who came either had no parents or were abused. All were hungry. Instead of coming just on a Sunday, the children arrived every day and Pumza and her husband started a soup kitchen to feed them with the money that a small UK charity, The Nomntu Project, had given them to grow vegetables. This led to the starting of a day care centre, using an abandoned building. It cared for 48 children.

But at this early stage, Pumza and her husband were still treated with suspicion by local people who had already suffered from previous visits by others claiming to help, but instead, took money from them and then disappeared. Consequently, it was difficult to be accepted. But, in Pumza’s words:

‘When you want something to succeed you must be the first person to show what to do. You do whatever needs to be done. You must be hands on and that encourages them to work with you. You must be amongst them and working with them’.

This collaborative approach in an area where very few worked – the social grant for children (R280 i.e. 17.50/month) being the only money many received – led to two women volunteering to work with Pumza in looking after the children. The Nomntu Project raised funds to provide a corrugated iron shelter for the growing number of children needing care and food. It also provided fencing and a toilet. But just as things looked as if they were going well, Pumza’s husband, Lenford, was tragically killed in a motor accident. People rallied round Pumza as she continued, in spite of her grief, to care for the village children with her two helpers.

They worked together starting with small vegetable plots, later adding chickens to their commercial efforts by buying them for R40 (2.50) and killing and preparing them for sale at R70 (4.38). In this way the women earned sums of money for themselves for the first time in their lives.

‘People get excited when they see what they have planned is coming to be real. People have been used before, they have been taken advantage of by others who have taken money from them…With the chickens I bought them with the money I had at that time. But after that we sell the chickens. It was an ongoing thing. There is profit which will help in buying a few of the groceries which is making a change in their home. They have money for electricity and all that from selling the chickens.’

Part of Pumza’s own savings was handed over directly to the women as a sign of her trust in them and for them to make their own decisions.

‘When you start showing that you are trusting them, they start trusting you. The minute you show them that “I trust you guys, we can do this,” then they start to trust you. That’s how we earn trust in most things.’

Perhaps one of the more remarkable aspects of developing the community was to bring men fully into the picture. As she was working with the women on sewing projects or with the chickens or tending the crops Pumza realised, in listening to them, that – in her words – there were ‘problems at home’ which were largely related to having no income. Tensions led men to be violent to women and to children. Some of the women Pumza worked with had been raped. Such women, she said, believed they could do nothing to escape this cycle of violence and poverty. Pumza started by helping them and their husbands to begin to hope and believe that they were ‘better people and were capable of doing better things’. One man, for example, had a pig, but it was stolen during the night and he lost heart as had no means of replacing it. Pumza approached him and his friends to open up the possibility of starting again. The funds for 10 piglets and large amounts of poles, corrugated sheeting and razor wire came from The Nomntu Project. Pumza encouraged the man whose pigs were stolen – and his friends – to try pig rearing again. And so, in Pumza believing they could, they too were encouraged to believe again in themselves. ‘They feel they have dignity now that they are doing something. They no longer feel useless. They have gained back their dignity. They are doing something every day of their lives’.

The lesson clearly in this case is that more is achieved by ‘doing with’ than ‘doing to’ in any form of development activity. One of Nomntu’s key aims is to enable people to take charge of their own lives. The first practical gift given to Pumza at the end of 2008 was a number of seeds. From this small start, vegetables now grow in ever-increasing plots of land to feed families in the village. The first shelter built from Nomntu money has been dismantled and a bigger one measuring 30m by 20m (accommodating 83 children) has been built on a site provided by the village community committee. On Sundays, the centre serves as a church and more than 100 people come to the service there, led by Pumza herself. All this has happened in just less than 5 years.

The model of community development that has become a reality in Biko Village is one that is driven by an enduring belief in others, developed in this case by a person whose leadership comes not just from clear goals and brilliant strategic management, but also from a loving patience and kindness. This is underpinned by a spiritual and practical belief that others can take charge of their own lives and their own community in positive ways that they once believed were impossible to achieve.

References

Easter Cape Socio Economic Consultative Council, 2012. Eastern Cape Development Indicators-2012, East London.

Stats SA. (2013). Statistical release P0302 Mid-year population estimates 2013 (p. 16). Pretoria. Retrieved from http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0302/P03022013.pdf

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