On the 23rd May 2020 Catholic Church Justice and Peace Commission in partnership with United Nations Women in South Africa did their COVID-19 Lockdown charity outreach to Winterveldt, one of the poor villages in the Northern part of Pretoria. The purpose of the outreach was to donate food parcels to 160 poor people. Among those who received donations were 30 women from Mercy Sisters’ Thusanang Primary Healthcare Centre, which helps poor women with sustainable projects.
Thusanang was established in 1987 by Mercy Sisters. It started with 9 women from Winterveldt area, but mainly South Africans. Because of today’s high migration challenge to South Africa, the centre now caters for women from different countries neighbouring to South Africa.
Maria Sikhomba, a coordinator and one of the founding pioneers in the centre said Thusanang was established to instruct women in gardening and help poor women with food parcels. Now it has 7 serving points in the village where nominated beneficiaries come to receive food parcels and other basic needs.
Maria said the centre used to organised food parcels every month but due to lack of resources now they are able to organise distribution once in two months only, which was not the case before. Though the number of poor women in the area is increasing daily they can only afford 750 beneficiaries so far. Those who reach the age of 60 are helped to access their grants and immediately they remove them from the beneficiary roll.
Other than food parcels, Thusanang also helps sick people and connect them with nearby clinics; facilitate social grants and birth documents for orphaned children.
Maria said the greatest challenge they are facing in the gardening project is the scarcity of water. They try hard to produce more but normally they are disappointed by lack of water, which sometimes is totally not there. She said another challenge is lack of enough seeds to cater for all the gardens. Mercy Sisters always help them but it is never enough for their needs.
According to Maria there are 170 women in the gardening project. They have also a number of sick women who are not allowed to work, but they also benefit from what has been produced from the gardens. Those who have reached the age of retirement and they can access their grants are left to maintain their gardens in order to supplement what they get from their social grant.
Talking about COVID-19 Maria said she is happy that none of the beneficiaries have been diagnosed with Coronavirus. They are very cautious as the centre in making sure that everybody is safe from the virus. They spend some time teaching their beneficiaries about safety precautions against Coronavirus.
As the coordinator of Thusanang Maria said she is very thankful to the people who facilitated food parcels to help them. She also thanked Catholic Church for always being there to help the disadvantaged and the needy without making distinction of religious affiliation.
Ms Thokwane, one of the beneficiaries of food parcels said she is very happy that she will be able to eat together with her children and family. “Today is the day of happiness in our home. There is no one working in the family. We struggle every day to get something to eat. The food parcels we have received today will sustain us for some time”, she said.
Another beneficiary from Zimbabwe said her husband is a vendor in the streets of Tshwane and he used to get something from his job, but since lockdown they have been struggling. They don’t have anything to eat together with their children. Even spaza shops in the village are no longer giving them credit because nobody is working in the family. They have been going to bed with empty stomach. She said she is thankful to God for people who have brought them food parcels. She also urged them to do the same wherever they go. “I am happy my children today will eat and run around and be like my children I know”, she said.
A young women from Zimbabwe who has been in South Africa for 6 years also said, “I have come to believe that God is there and he helps his people through others. My husband is not working and we have 3 children. For the past 6 years we have been helped by Catholic Church. Yesterday when we went to sleep we had nothing to eat. My heart is very happy today but at the same time I feel like crying because of the suffering I have been going through”.
The last women who shared her experience also was from Zimbabwe. She said she has been in South Africa since 2004. Since then she has been part of women of gardening, in order to sustain her family. She was happy that she has been well received and she feels part of the society. She said since lockdown they have been struggling to make ends meet. “I’m very happy today. I will be able to have something to eat with my family”, She iterated.
Some of the women in the group shared their abused experiences, which they said it is still happening in some of the families and in the society.
Fr Patrick Rakeketsi, the SACBC Associate Secretary General, who was part of the team of people who donated food parcels, encouraged Mercy Sisters and Stigmatines Fathers, all working in the area, to continue a long culture of working together to address the challenges of the people and urged them to continue helping each other. He thanked them for a good work they are doing in Winterveldt. He also encouraged beneficiaries to remain strong in their faith and continue to attend their different churches. He ended by praising the partnership of SACBC Justice and Peace Commission and United Nations Women for being generous to help the needy.
Among the people who brought food parcels were Fr Stan Muyebe OP, the National Coordinator SACBC of Justice and Peace Commission and other 4 members from the same office, Sr St. John who is in charge of supervising activities of Thusanang Primary Healthcare Centre who was accompanied by other 4 Mercy Sisters, and two Stigmatines Fathers working in Winterveldt.
The event was closed with thanksgiving prayer by Fr Sylvester Motlhokoa CSS, one of the parish priests of the area.
By Paul Tatu (SACBC Communication & Media)
23rd May 2020
For information contact: Fr Stan Muyebe OP, +27 79 739 9390