Imbaliyethu and Ekhayalethu

Pearl Mvo at Imbaliyethu creche

What an honour it was to spend a part of my Saturday with three women like these. Nomusa Shabane , Pearl Mvo and Charity Mahlutshana all gave up some of their free time to sit down with me and tell me more about what’s happening in their community. But it was a bit of an interesting experience actually getting to Imbaliyethu Crèche. 

Nomusa had sent me her address in the days leading up to our meeting and after I tried finding it on the map I realised that it was close to the Inanda Seminary where a friend of mine works. She confirmed that the organisation was actually located on church land, so I supposed it couldn’t actually be that hard to find, especially seeing as it looked so close on Google.

Nomusa is a WhatsApp whizz so we made most of our arrangements via text and she suggested that I phone her when I reach the Seminary, saying she would be able to give me directions to Imbaliyethu from there. But when I phoned Nomusa my calls weren’t actually going through!

This meant I was left having to follow Google Maps, which I wasn’t too stressed about seeing as it seemed like it would be a breeze. The only thing that did niggle in the back of my mind is that I might arrive to an empty crèche. So there I was, driving along trying to avoid the animals on the side of the main road that runs through Inanda, still feeling pretty confident that the voice in my phone’s map would lead me right where I needed to be.

That’s until Google told me to turn left and there was no road on my left, not even 200m ahead! I realised that I may have a problem, so I kept trying to make contact with Nomusa with no luck. But then suddenly I saw an eye-catching pink house coming up in front of me, and sure enough, the sign confirmed that I’d finally reached my destination.

I was super relieved, and pulled over in front of the house immediately! A friendly face greeted me from the doorway, I received a warm welcome from a woman I would later learn is not in fact Nomusa but Pearl Mvo, one of her longest standing staff members. Pearl was at work on a Saturday anyway to supervise some renovations being done.

Pearl led me into the office where she made sure I was settled comfortably and offered me a cup of tea. She assured me that Nomusa was indeed on her way but that she had been delayed on public transport. After a few minutes another elderly lady joined me in the office. Again, it wasn’t Nomusa but her neighbour Charity who had come to meet me on her friend’s request.

Charity was a big part of the reason I’d initially made contact with Nomusa. She is a member of the old age club called Ekhayalethu that gets together and meets here on the same site. Personally I care a lot about the elderly within South Africa. I know that they sometimes face extremely tough circumstances, and that they don’t have the added benefit of good PR that the youth have (I mean they can’t be labelled as “our country’s future” but they also aren’t quite just our country’s past).

Charity and Pearl

I find that many people have lived full and meaningful lives but are left alone now in their later years because of children who have moved to other cities or even emigrated to greener pastures. So that’s why I contacted Nomusa, because I’d heard that she was doing some good work with the elderly members of her community on top of looking after the children too.

I had first heard about Nomusa’s work through a friend who collaborated with her in the past. My friend told me how she got elderly ladies in her area to get together to play soccer and stay fit. She also told me that she networks with other small organisations like her own, and that she’s passionate about learning more about how she can keep improving her organisation.

The idea of a bunch of older women getting together and playing soccer intrigued me…I imagine that life can be very challenging when you’re retired and struggling to make ends meet with a small pension. I found it admirable that these women still clearly had a lust for life, a desire to get out there and play, to stay fit.

Anyway, I was thrilled that Nomusa seemed eager to set up an interview and tell me more about how they help the Inanda community. One of the lessons I’ve been steadily learning as I meet people who are making a difference is that they often don’t just focus on one thing. It seems that there is so much need in some areas that they sometimes choose to extend their help beyond the area they were initially passionate about.

This meant that organisations sometimes don’t fit into a single neat category. It seems that most of the time it’s the community members themselves that dictate what they need. The see someone doing something good, and they come to them with other needs that also need to be addressed.

So even though I was keen to feature Nomusa because of her work with the elderly I couldn’t do a story on her without focussing on her work with the children in her area. She runs two organisations from her small site within Inanda called Imbaliyethu Crèche and Ekhayalethu Old Age Club.

Charity was asked to represent Ekhayalethu, and she kindly walked across the road to come and tell me more about this club just because her friend had asked her to. At 83 years of age (and with a painful leg) Charity was still staying busy. Throughout our conversation the importance of having a place to go where people are waiting for you became increasingly clear to me.

The companionship, the little tasks they do like knitting and crocheting, it gives her something enjoyable to look forward to. These times together allow these elderly women to recharge and take time for themselves where they don’t have to look after their grandchildren. They also get to share how they feel with others who are in the same life stage. And then on Wednesdays they play soccer. Even though Charity isn’t able to play anymore, Nomusa still does (at 65 years of age).

Finally Nomusa arrived, and when she walked in the first thing that struck me about her was her genuinely friendly smile. I felt that I was in the presence of a truly warm and lovely person. All three women sat with me, explaining the process of how the centre started and why it’s important to help get kids off the street and learning.

Founder Nomusa Shabane

From what they share it becomes clear that being able to accommodate the local children in this small house is a big win for them. The centre only exists because of Nomusa’s unrelenting effort. She spent years building this place, getting sponsors to donate to her crèche and having to figure out so much in the process.

Often there is a lot of red tape involved in making yourself attractive to sponsors. Companies require documentation before sponsoring an organisation because they want to know that their money is going to a good cause, and probably also because there are some tax benefits involved in sponsoring registered organisations.

But because Nomusa had started the crèche because it broke her heart to see children wandering aimlessly in the streets she didn’t have all of those ducks in a row when she first started asking for sponsorship. But she never let that stop her. She would figure out what a potential sponsor needed and she would do the work to get them what they need.

It was as simple as that. She had people who relied on her to make a success of this crèche, and thanks to her sheer determination Imbaliyethu has impacted the lives of many children in her community. And, of course, the elders too!  What struck me most about her was that she didn’t even seem frustrated when telling me about the process.

 This is such a stark contrast to how I feel about doing any type of “admin” that is required of me. Nomusa just accepted that this is what she would have to do and she got the job done. She got the necessary documentation and she physically visited companies to ask for assistance.

Being faced with this woman who is around retirement age, but who is still so full of life and joy, and who has such a fighting spirit can’t help but inspire you! Despite her success in getting them to where they are today things are far from perfect now. They have 80 children crammed into a small house that is in desperate need of a new coat of paint.

The elders also meet in a small informal structure (think metal sheeting) on the side of the property. I can’t help but think how hot it must get in there in summer! But these women are just grateful to have a place to meet. Nomusa mentions how sometimes these women are hungry and she feels compelled to feed them even though they are unable to pay a membership fee. Again, I marvel at her generosity.

The Imbaliyethu team is a wonderful group. They work hard and they don’t get paid much. With school fees ranging from R100 – R150 a month they can’t afford to pay their eight staff members big salaries. Nomusa believes that her staff members keep working here because they love what they do even though they don’t necessarily earn enough to support their families the way they might like to.

With a little, these ladies do so much! It’s pretty obvious that they work hard to look after these vulnerable members of their community. Despite working a full week (officially opening at 7 in the morning but still allowing babies to be dropped off earlier and closing after the final child has been fetched by his or her parents) they still didn’t mind meeting with me on a Saturday! They are just keen to tell their story and to have someone listen.

As I leave all three women wish me well and tell me how honoured they feel that such a nice girl came to spend some time with them. But actually I’m the one who is honoured. Meeting these powerful women really impacted me, seeing how hard they work and how much they care about others was truly inspirational and left me feeling hopeful for the future of this particular community.

If you would like to get in touch with Nomusa and her team you can contact them via email on nomusa.imbali@gmail.com. I’m sure they would love any support in their quest to help the Inanda community.

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