It was a crisp winter’s afternoon when I met with Catherine Robar. Catherine is currently enrolled in a Post Graduate Certificate in Food Security from Ryerson University and has been accepted to pursue a Masters in Human Development and Food Security in 2010. On her return from a trip to South Africa to volunteer her time with a community in need, Catherine discovered Thembalethu. And from this she created the Thembalethu Project.
To find out more about the Themba Development Project that Catherine has created, watch the video and read her personal account below the video window.
In March of 2008 I departed for South Africa to volunteer my time with a community in need. At the time I was not sure where I would end up but I knew that my desire would overcome any obstacle set in front of me. It was when I discovered the community of Thembalethu that I knew that I had found what I was looking for. Thembalethu is located in the Western Cape of South Africa and is populated by people who left their tiny villages in hopes of finding a better life for themselves and their children. Despite being told that this was a dangerous area I trusted my gut instinct and ventured into the community made up of tiny roads that resembled a poorly planned maze, concrete block houses and shacks made of materials collected from the landfill sites.
I met a man similar in age to me while in the neighboring city of George. After many lunch time conversations under a tree I asked if I could visit his area of Thembalethu, Zone 4 (of 9). This man’s name was Gcinsizwe Noyakaza and although I didn’t know it then, he would become one of the most influential people of my lifetime. I also didn’t know that I was about to become the first outside person to visit Zone 4. When I arrived at his mothers tiny shack the entire room was filled with happy faces, all of which had come to see if this lady from Canada would really show. I was happy that I trusted my instincts, I had learned in the past that although poverty does not look nice from the outside, on the inside it is filled with real people just like you and I who are happy to share anything they have with you.
One evening I took a moment to talk to Gcinsizwe about his community and the struggles facing them. During our conversation he looked at me with eyes of sincerity and said “Catherine, my community only knows struggle, we have lived our lives not knowing where our next meal will come from and it has become normal for us to be hungry for 3, 4, 5 days in a row. Your arrival is the first time that my community has felt a sense of hope.” I knew at this moment that I had to help this community, even when I returned home.
I returned home and created The Themba Development Project which is a volunteer-operated, Canadian Registered Charity. Together we work to improve access to food, minimize poverty, encourage education as well as to develop short and long term solutions to the food crisis facing many people in this country. The reason for our success is simple, we encourage education and community leadership, we operate with zero administrative costs and all funds donated go directly to assisting this community in need. Themba means “Hope” in the Xhosa language and Gcinsizwe Noyakaza is now the Director of Community Relations due to his natural leadership abilities, his ability to speak 8 languages and his tireless desire to help lift his community out of chronic poverty.
Recently I was nominated for a National Humanitarian Award called the “Me to We” award for my initiative in creating The Themba Development Project and my many programs that are helping to lift this community out of chronic poverty. These programs include:
1. Monthly food shipments to address the short term need of securing food.
2. The Food Security and Gardening Program- Currently the available land in Zone 4 is being redeveloped into family gardening plots which is helping to transform this community so that each family has access to a plot of land to grow their own food
3. Seeds of Hope-supplying the community with an abundant source of seeds to get started.
4. Rain Water Harvesting- Techniques are being developed to collect rain water to be used on gardens during frequent times of drought
5. Educational assistance program- Supplies children with school supplies so that they do not have to go days without food just to afford paper, pencils and other items.
6. School Uniform Program- This year we will provide 80 children with school uniforms so that they can afford to attend school.
7. Youth sport and artistic resources- We have supplied the youngest children with soccer balls and art classes so that they have time to be children and escape the hardships of daily life.
8. Leadership Soccer Team- We have created a leadership soccer team for the young men in this community to show them that we care about them and their future and to teach them to rise above the obstacles in their way and create a better future for themselves. All of the young men on this team have since re-enrolled in school and take part in weekly community building activities.
**We are currently fund raising so that we can plant 300 fruit and nut bearing trees so that there is an abundant source of free foods available as well as creating a program to teach the community how to collect rain water to use during times of drought.
Although I am only one person I believe that I have the power to make change. The people living in Thembalethu have the knowledge and capacity to live a better life, they just need someone to help them get started. The Themba Development Project has already given more hope to this community than they ever thought possible, together we will ensure that every family has the ability to feed their family, to go to school and to escape the cycle of poverty.
For more information or to make a donation please visit www.thembaproject.org
Written by Catherine E. Robar
Founding Director of The Themba Development Project Association