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Poverty, Charity and Photography.

October 28, 2011

In August this year, we went back “home” for our annual holiday in paradise. We are among a handful of fortunate people to own our own property (and a beautiful one at that) on what must be one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa. The Garden Route coast. Our house is in the sleepy seaside village of Glentana. Home to retirees and wealthy “Gautengers” (people from Gauteng province) who own holiday homes here. There are no malls or designer shops. Just God’s country. A few minutes down the road lies the historical Hoogekraal Farm, one of the oldest farms in the Southern Cape. Most of the farm has been sold to Lagoon Bay. A developer whose hope it is to develop a unique “lifestyle experience” here amongst the fynbos, above the mighty Indian Ocean with views to the majestic, purple  Outeniqua Mountains. The “lifestyle experience” will include  two championship golf courses, a shopping village, a five star hotel, the residential village and of course various water sports in the salt water lagoon. All of this apparently “nestled” in one of only six floral kingdoms in the world. How they will manage to do all this whilst keeping the magnificent natural flora, only they will know. To me it appears impossible.

It appears I am not alone in my sentiments. A group of Glentana residents, concerned about the environmental impact of the project have taken the developers to court. In an area where there has been severe water restrictions during the recent droughts, golf courses are not a good idea. It is estimated that the proposed  golf courses will use up to four million litres of water a day. I find it unbelievable that in this day and age where going green is vital for future generations, developers can even propose a development of this nature. There are numerous developments all over the world that take green issues to heart and are able to build sustainable and environmentally friendly projects. It appears as though Lagoon Bay has taken the fast cash route and not the long term sustainable route. What a pity.

The implication of their short sightedness is huge. Lagoon Bay could provide jobs. The original Hoogekraal farms provided housing and work to its labourers and their families. The farms are no longer and as long as the legal wrangling continues, the families that have been displaced by the development, continue to suffer. Some of these families live in small Cape Dutch style houses, now without running water or electricity. Many more live in makeshift homes and shelters fashioned out of corrugated iron sheets, wooden planks and bits of plastic. Also without plumbing, running water or electricity. This community is jobless and hopeless. Unemployment is rife as is alcohol abuse. Just off the main road to Glentana on the road to Hoogekraal sits the area’s only shop. A superette selling anything from shoe polish to onions. It also sells alcohol. Alcohol that keeps the adult community members numb to their social problems and numb to their responsibilities as parents. Sadly, even some children are not immune to the numbing effect of alcohol.

My mother first became aware of the problems in this community whenever she visited the superette to buy a loaf of  bread or milk. Snotty nosed, bare footed, hungry children would be begging for money or something to eat. After some time she began making some enquiries and soon afterwards found herself working side by side with the local social welfare department. Making home visits to the community and becoming a part of the little farm school, Hoogekraal Primere Skool (here Afrikaans is still the first language among the local population). Working with the school, she has managed to secure donations from businesses to supply the children with school uniforms and school shoes. This has meant that none of these children need come to school barefoot in the cold winter months and now all the children, even those from disadvantaged families where buying a school uniform is very low on the priority list, have uniforms. A much needed boost to their morale.

In an effort to supply clothes to the children, I appealed to the generosity of Dubai  through my Face Book page and was overwhelmed by the  response. We flew to South Africa with 25 kg of donated clothes for this community. On the day that we handed out the clothes it was heartbreaking to see children so overwhelmed by this gift. For many of them this was probably the first time in a very long time they had received “new” clothes. Gifting these clothes was an incredible humbling experience and one that every designer clad  kid/adult should experience. Always being on the receiving end does nothing for your character. By serving others, giving back to the earth and those less fortunate, you find happiness.

A Primary School was built for the local children by the farmer who owned the land. The school has sixty-six pupils, four classrooms and four teachers. The teachers each teach two grades simultaneously. The school provides one cooked meal and a fruit for each child every day. This is usually a bean and vegetable soup. There is no cafeteria, and no tables and chairs for these children to sit at whilst they eat. There is also no play equipment or playground. The area around the school is an uneven, potholed affair where the boys try to kick around a punctured soccer ball. Some kids play a game in the dirt using stones and bottle tops. Although there is real poverty and obvious neglect amongst many of the children, they all appear reasonably happy. This life is all they know.

Doing the Hokey Pokey

Doing the Hokey Pokey

Hoogekraal Primary School has now become my family’s charity project. My mom continues to work with the school and community to help wherever she can. At the moment she is involved in helping the school prepare for their first ever Christmas concert. My son Gianluca has taken it upon himself to raise funds for the school so that the children can benefit from better facilities. Through the gift of photography, I was able to take individual school portraits of all the students. This was the very first time that they had ever received a school portrait. It felt good.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Victoria Cottino permalink
    October 29, 2011 12:57 AM

    Very interesting, wow you and your mum have done something so worthwhile that really makes a difference. It feels good to give and people are usually quite happy to donate things that mean nothing to them but truly please these kids. I hope Lagoon Bay think carefully about the impact of what they are proposing.? I’ll look forward to reading more.

  2. October 29, 2011 4:12 PM

    Next time you want a donation of clothes please drop me a line – sorry to have missed your shout out. Well done for helping make a difference. I think people are generally fed up of short-term gain for the few over sustainability for many for the future. So sad that it seems to go on everywhere. Golf courses are very unenvironmentally friendly, take up a large area and provide few jobs.

  3. October 31, 2011 10:58 AM

    What you’ve done is really commendable and inspiring Edwina. I’ve so often been caught in that shameless trap where I see poverty, especially in India, think about doing something, and never get around to doing it. Thanks for a post that should encourage people to really step and do something for a cause that deserves their attention, close to home, in their own communities…and especially those things that don’t necessarily get all the press in the world, but are nonetheless very important in the lives of those who’ve been displaced or are less privileged.

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