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Feeding children, feeding my soul

In my 50th year, a year of great abundance (I celebrated my birthday with my beloved and dear friends in Istanbul, I was given a wetsuit and I started doing yoga regularly, to mention just a few highlights), the best thing that has happened to me is a morning shift once a week at a local school, making porridge and washing dishes.

Sounds a bit mad doesn’t it? But it is true … mostly … except when I am actually in the water in that wetsuit.

I help make porridge (fortified pap) and wash dishes at a Breakfast Club that feeds 450 children every morning before school. Most of the children come from disadvantaged homes, the vast majority have nothing to eat before they leave their homes in far-flung places to start journeys to school of 1-2 hours. In fact, a significant number of them do not even have anything to drink before they are squashed into buses and informal taxis, often with strangers.

On a recent morning one of the volunteers saw 12 children get out of an ordinary sized car, the three smallest climbing out of the boot.

It is impossible to imagine the stress of these journeys. Terrifying also to think of the pressure these children feel to be cheerful and switch their brains on when they get to the school, where they are lucky to have a place, which suggests there is some hope they will escape the poverty trap.

Two fantastic women, Aletta and Patsy, have made it their mission to make sure these children get a bowl of porridge, a cup of water and a piece of fruit before they go to the classroom.

So this is where I find myself once a week in the cool and misty morning, washing dishes, surrounded by hope.

Someone in my partner’s office heard she was volunteering at this Breakfast Club and donated 44 hand-knitted teddy bears to the Grade Rs. She (Lindsey)  is member of a knitting group, a kindly, charitable version of a “stitch-and-bitch”, where a bunch of ladies get together for tea, possibly gossip, probably wine, and knitting. Many children in need, from burn victims at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital to our own little honey-bunnies at Breakfast Club, have their own unique little teddy bear from these lovely ladies.

Sometimes it is is easy to forget, but just look around … we are always surrounded by love and there are so many ways to help others.

Desperately seeking Wonderbags

The porridge is cold by the time the children eat it. Although I have never heard any complaints I know warmth would really supercharge the experience. So we are looking for 14 Wonderbags so that it is not ice cold when it is served.

The Wonderbag is a wondrous thing, an insulated bag into which one puts pots of food (cooked or cooking) to keep in the heat. It really can extend the cooking process long after you have stopped applying heat; we should all use them in our energy-poor world.

Rice and porridge are both perfect candidates. Add required amount of rice or porridge and water, bring to boil, transfer closed pot to Wonderbag and walk away. It will cook perfectly, no chance of it catching/burning and will stay hot for hours. A Wonderbag costs less than R300.

I am guessing there are many Wonderbags lying around the homes of suburbanites who seldom use them. If you have one to donate please mail [email protected] to arrange delivery/collection. If you would like to buy one for the cause please do. It will be much appreciated and will go to a fantastic cause.


Aletta Ashmore, who worked as a remedial teacher at the school, and Patsy Bagraim, a Shine volunteer there, set up a pilot scheme to feed 75 Grade 1’s. The club today feeds a healthy E’pap, milk and fruit breakfast to over 400 Grade R – Grade 7 children each school morning.

These two wonder-women pay costs themselves where they can’t raise funds, as well as providing much of the labour. They get a little help from volunteers and locals to whom they pay a stipend. They are helped along by the kindness of family members, friends and a few strangers.

They get very little help from the authorities, national or local. In a maddening irony the school does not qualify for funding because it is located in a prosperous neighbourhood, even though 80% of the children are brought in from surrounding areas, most of them far away and very poor.

They know from having surveyed the children that 34.7% of them get up before 5am, another 52.4% rise between 5 and 6am. More than half the children spend the next hour to hour and a half commuting to school. Almost a quarter of them do not have anything to drink before leaving home, 14.1% do not eat before leaving home with another 45.2% saying they sometimes get something to eat before leaving home (in other words nearly 60% of the children are not sure of getting something to eat before they leave home for a trip of more than an hour before they start school). What sort if chance do they have of kicking into learning mode at 8am?

Support from businesses has also made all the difference. Addis supplied plates and serving bowls; Faircape donates ALL the milk (reason to support them!); Specsavers in Canal Walk tested all the volunteers’ eyes for free and covered the cost of lenses for those who needed glasses.

Make a donation or lend a hand …

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