written by GWC Alumnus, Sihle Mooi
Alexandra is a blessing to South Africa because it always finds a loud way of forcing us to remember what the lives of those who are left behind in South Africa are really like, how the 60% of those who live under the poverty line really live. Alex is a township on the edge of Sandton, Johannesburg.
When guidance was given by the State about measures that we needed to take to protect ourselves from COVID-19 and eventually the Lockdown was declared, many people watched with horror as many in Alex and other townships were simply not cooperating.
Rays of Hope has been working in Alex for almost 30 years in the areas of orphaned and vulnerable children, education and work readiness and touch over 2,800 of the most vulnerable in the community, from crèches to grannies, which puts us firmly in the world of the 60% underprivileged.
A week before the Lockdown, Rays of Hope staff met to work out how we would respond to COVID-19 and its impact on our programmes and services. Two key points emerged:
- We would fully support the call to social distancing by suspending our regular programmes, postponing events and working from home to protect lives.
- However, abandoning, the most vulnerable in the community in the hour of their greatest need, was not an option. This meant keeping our offices open for a few hours a day with skeleton staff (social workers) for emergencies and continuing to provide certain services that our community could not cope without food and health-related supplies.
A day before the Lockdown, we teamed up with 30 other non-profit organisations that we had a relationship within Alex to launch #Hope4Alex. The campaign’s goal was to collect and legally distribute food and health-related supplies to 1,000 of the most vulnerable families in Alex (www.raysofhope.co.za/hope4alex).
I remember our first distribution morning, being surrounded by these young leaders who were all afraid of catching this virus and infecting their families but still determined to push through that fear so that the most vulnerable wouldn’t catch it either.
When we went into the community, we found people who were paralysed by shock and confusion and many had even lost hope because they felt it was impossible for them to practice the hygiene, feed their families and abide by the rules of the Lockdown and so felt alone and not heard again.
As we debriefed after the distribution, we were all so glad that we had gone as we heard story after story of how people thanked God when they saw our faces. We saw that people needed more than just food and medical supplies; they also needed to be given hope and educated about what they could do to protect themselves, given their circumstances. We also encouraged some community leaders to step up and be in dialogue with the community and law enforcement.
On our second distribution, a group of journalists joined us, and this is what they observed:
“We went out with the Rays of Hope team today. They were distributing food hampers in Alex.
Some residents don’t have TVs or radios and have no idea what the coronavirus is. Some don’t believe it. Some have heard of it and try to take precautions, but they don’t have soap, water or sanitisers. People live in crowded spaces, and it’s hard to social distance.
Many do not have food or fridges for that matter and do not have the means to stockpile.
The most heart-breaking story I came across was a gentleman who works as a recycler. Surprise has no work during the Lockdown and now has no money to buy food. He says we can’t stay indoors if we don’t have anything to eat. This is the reality for millions in our country. If you can help, please do. There are so many just trying to survive, let alone defend against COVID-19.”
Many eyes across the country have been slowly opening to the fact that we live in different worlds.
Here are some facts about many of the “homes” in Alex:
- Many shacks in Alex are one room; they can be shared by up to 11 family members (extended families); it’s hard to be a metre apart inside. People create space by taking turns inside, e.g., when one washes, others go outside, etc. The space is more for sleeping than spending any amount of time in.
- Most toilets are not in the house but outside, and they are shared by many families. Sometimes the toilet is even outside the yard and can be its quite a long walk.
- There is no running water in the house, and one has to leave the house and sometimes the yard to go to a communal tap.
- Most people don’t have their own yards where they can get fresh air, sit on the grass or exercise.
- People’s houses/rooms are very close and some open onto the road or pavement.
- Many people are driven out of their homes by hunger, they usually earn daily or weekly as they work, so each minute that they are in the house they are not able to feed their families.
Jesus will be revealed as man is humbled, people look to Him for help, and as God’s people show his love in countercultural ways (as it was in the early church).
Pray for protection, wisdom and strength for our team and others who are providing essential services – doctors, nurses, social workers, police and army.
Healing and help for the sick and that a vaccine will be developed soon.
Community leaders to lead the charge in helping the community comply.