Monday, 21 October 2019

Saturday dawned hot and sunny and after spending a little time on our soon to be launched, new website I set off the Pietermaritzburg to meet up with some of our Sangobeg scholars who are studying there.  As I was driving along I noticed a red car in my rear view mirror, imagine my surprise when a total of seven shiny red Ferrari cars zoomed past in close succession!  It was just so unexpected, amongst the usual collection of vehicles on the motorways in KZN where you have your bakkies and other 4 wheel drive, the usual mixture of Japanese and Korean run arounds and the ubiquitous taxi/minibus. 
Arriving at the Liberty Mall in PMB I was pleased to find my memory served me well and I was able to find Mugg & Bean, the designated meeting place. Recognising Pretty however was not so easy, having only met her once before on our January visit I was scanning the arrivals at the coffee bar.  An elegant woman with a lovely red, floppy sunhat arrived with a dapper young man and walked past my table and then turned back and said questioningly "Claire?" just as I looked and said, almost simultaneously "Pretty?" Lo and behold it was her, looking stunning in her summer attire.  Her companion was a quiet young man, Sandile, who has recently become the beneficiary of a Sangobeg Scholarship.  We found a table and got to chatting, catching up on all that Pretty has been doing in her role in the NGO Umkhumbi kaNoah and hearing about Sandile's recent examinations in his eco tourism management degree.  Then we were joined by Nolly, who is another recent addition to the Sangobeg Scholarship programme.  Nolly is completing a BA in community development and she also works at Zimele, the agricultural project GAGA has funded in the past.  Furthermore, we have an acquaintance in common, Paul Tomlinson, a fellow Rotarian from Stratford upon Avon who is heavily involved in the Computers for Africa programme and has supplied Zimele.
We had such a lovely afternoon together, talking about each of their experiences and hopes for the future, please watch out for their stories when we launch our new website as I will be featuring them all as time goes on.
The heat was oppressive and the air thick with humidity by the time I walked back to the bakkie in the carpark.  The journey home was uneventful and I hoped to come back to a productive afternoon on the website, but the combination of loadshedding and the subsequent loss of internet connectivity soon put paid to that.  After another supper by lantern light, I read my book before falling fast asleep.
Sunday morning was bright and sunny again, this was the morning of the Amashova cycle race, a 106 km race which winds through the Valley of 1000 Hills and passes directly by the gates of PheZulu.  The road was closed from 4am and was planned to be closed until 2pm, therefore there were no staff on site and the PheZulu Park was closed for the day. It was astonishing to see the cyclists tackle the long, steep climb from PheZulu into Botha's Hill, especially as the temperature rose into the early to mid thirty's!  I later found out that sadly, the heat proved to be too much for some cyclists, one sadly died and two others were hospitalised.  Consequently the race was called off just after noon and remaining cyclists were transported to the finish area at SunCoast. 

During the morning, walking down to watch the cycling, I discovered that my phone was picking up the WiFi from the PheZulu park office, so I spent the morning "squatting" in the security hut and caught up with my emails and the outstanding changes to our "website in waiting" Not a bad "view from the office" is it?

A little less than glamourous inside though! Nonetheless, it meant I got the job done, inching closer to the point where I can get launch ready!

In the afternoon I had another student meeting, this time with Bongiwe.  Bongiwe has a bursary for her Project Management Diploma but we help her out with transport costs as she is living at home with her Gogo (grandmother) and her two small children.  I did not have the chance to meet Bongiwe on my last visit, so I was especially pleased to meet her this time.  She is an engaging and energetic young woman and I had a great time getting to know her. Luckily for me, this meeting coincided with load shedding, so by the time I returned to the lodge everything was up and running (bar the internet...) This gave me the perfect opportunity to read a transcript of a book I have been sent, it is the first 9 chapters of a book written by Menzi who is one of the children who was at the orphanage supported by GAGA in the very early days of the charity's existence.  Menzi is now living and working in Joberg but he has decided to write about his early life.  It is a fascinating and sometimes difficult read, when you understand that very small children experienced some of the harshest events one could imagine, loosing parents and other family members, being so hungry they ate from rubbish dumps and witnessing violent criminal activity. However, it is uplifting to learn how Menzi was sponsored by a loving couple from the UK and, through their influence and support, became determined to study hard and make a success of his life.  I particularly enjoy the writing as I now know many of the people he refers to, as GAGA has continued to support many of the orphans through the Sangobeg Scholarship Programme and in other projects, like First Step Right where they are now employed.  I also know some of the districts he talks about, albeit they are much more stable politically and socially than they were in the years he was growing up. 

This theme continued this morning as I met up with Debbie who is our project co-ordinator here in South Africa.  Debbie is a wonderful asset to GAGA, she too has the orphanage in her background and knows all of our projects very well, having worked in or otherwise supported many of them.  She really is our "eyes and ears" on the ground and we appreciate her insight and guidance.  After my meeting with Debbie, I called into 1000 Hills Community Helpers for a short visit (I didn't want to stay too long as I have a headcold and the last thing I wanted to do was spread my germs!).

Later on, I went to visit Embocraft.  Embocraft is a longstanding project which trains men and women in practical skills, sewing, welding, and craft activities, like screen printing and fabric painting so that they can learn a skill which will enable them to become economically independent.  They also provide basic computing skills to allow the newly skilled individuals to write a CV, have an email address and apply for jobs.

This training centre has been in operation for 25 years and they share some premises with Woza Moya, the retail arm of the Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust.  Embocraft aims to economically empower individuals by teaching them a marketable skill and giving them the confidence to use that skill in employment or self-employment by launching a small business. As they have been in existence for some years, they are well known around the area, so people who are keen to change their own circumstances seek them out for a place on one of their courses.  They are always looking for new opportunities and hope to offer a carpentry course in 2020.  In addition, they are looking to expand the sewing aspect by becoming part of a clothes bank initiative operating, at the moment in Durban, where items returned to shops due to faults or damage (broken zips, button ripped off etc) or just end of lines or slight seconds are reconditioned and then offered for sale.  This will give employment opportunities to the individuals who come to learn the sewing skills.  Those who show particular promise on the basic course are invited back to attend an advanced sewing course using industrial machines and this then gives them the credentials to apply for jobs in the clothes manufacturing industry.  Trainees who complete the basic sewing course are provided with a hand operated sewing machine that they can then use to operate a small sewing business back in their communities.  Each trainee make one item for the shop and one item for themselves, and the shop income is ploughed back into the enterprise.

They would also like to provide a welding machine to trainees who complete the welding course, but this is currently unaffordable.  So instead, they have an end of course competition and the winners are recipients of the welding equipment - you can imagine this is a fiercely contested competition as the prize is a means to economic independence!

In addition to training individuals, there is also a production sewing room where commissioned items are made up by some of the most accomplished advanced seamstresses and  tailors.  They also manufacture stock items for the shop to ensure that there is a steady supply of good quality goods for sale.  They have a number of sheds which are leased to other crafts people and this works well as the visitors to the shop may browse these independent businesses and visitors to these businesses may visit the shop!  Win Win!
It was a pleasure to visit this project, not currently in the GAGA portfolio but closely aligned to our objectives of "a hand up not a handout"  Getting close to supper time now, so I'll sign off the mega blog!  Three days for the price of one folks!