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Archive for February, 2012

Let me be honest, at times running an NPO and being involved with people who generally fall into one of the following categories: poor, disenfranchised, abused, neglected, and/or foreign, can be rather depressing. Sometimes I feel that I have so much to offer people, by virtue of the fact that I have access to certain resources and knowledge, but then there are times were I feel two of the worst emotions: uselessness and hopelessness. And right now that is exactly how I feel because for all of the knowledge and resources I possess, they do not make a difference to the situation that the woman I met with today, finds herself in.

I have spoken of her before; she is a quiet and unassuming young woman, who is hugely driven and a survivalist. She has fled from one African country to another with her young son and youngest brother, she has studied hospitality through a local South African college, even though she’d already studied the course in her own country – it was not recognised here. She has found shelter for her family, baked bread for spaza shops, and sold cigarettes and clothing in order to make money. She has tried, in various and interesting ways, to make a life for her little family in Durban, South Africa. We have walked a long road together, Denise and I, and every time I think that the tide has turned and she is about to emerge from a place of survival into a place of growth and security, a new challenge emerges and she is forced to begin again; she has to steel herself for another battle.

Today we met to discuss her dreams of starting her own small business; a café selling homemade Tanzanian and African cuisine. Denise has been an entrepreneur since the age of 14, when she bought and sold second hand clothing in Burundi, so that she would not have to depend on a sugar daddy like the other girls her age. Last year she found herself a kitchen on Umbilo Road, and began cooking and selling her food, much to the delight of the many foreigners who long for food from their home countries. Unfortunately, she did not have a proper contract with the kitchen owner and he soon realised that he too could make good money by selling food. So Denise lost her kitchen and she lost her income. She has spent the past two months looking for new premises and has been met with much resistance, as a foreigner, and as a woman. She was given a brand new stove to start off her small business but it sits gathering dust at the shop because she has nowhere to put it.  In a cruel twist of fate she has also been asked to leave the house they have called home for the last two years. She must move out by the 1st of March and so far has not found anywhere else that meets her meagre budget.

So as she sat across from me, a woman filled with dreams and a viable business plan, I felt her utter despondency at the futileness of her situation. She told me she has never felt this lost, this scared and this uncertain, about her life and the lives of her child and brother. She does not know which way to turn and cannot fathom how she will come out from this place.

Here she stands: experienced, educated, willing, and determined to make something of herself, and yet she faces such obstacle and barriers. I know there must be a way for this woman – someone must know someone who has a space they want to rent out in an area that meets her budget. Surely. Surely between all of us, we can make magic out of this seemingly hopeless situation. Because one day, soon, I would like to be sitting at a little café table in the heart of Durban, eating a plate of hot and tasty Tanzanian fare, prepared by Denise and served by her brother Joseph.

If you think you can help, or know of someone who would be interested in assisting Denise, please get in touch with me at ashling.mcc@gmail.com or visit www.ilearntolive.co.za

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