Every day, as I sat in the Claremont Jammie, right at the corner of the traffic lights is the U-turn organisation (the jammie bus is a free transportation service for students from the University of Cape Town). I’d pass it every time I went into campus. From my observations, I gathered it was an organisation dedicated to helping the homeless. This was because I always saw them going there and getting a warm meal or clothing parcel. Looking deeper within, I was intrigued by the people who work in these organisations. What made them choose this path and why? And so, that’s what I did. I found out about the team at U-turn.
Coming from a privileged position, privileged in the sense that I’ve never had to go a day without food or shelter. Meet the people who’ve acknowledged this privilege and have made it their duty to help the homeless in Cape Town. We all know about the amazing work of volunteer organisations and NGOs. Their dedication to a good cause helps us realise that there’s hope for humanity. However, taking a closer look inside, I believe the individuals who sacrifice and dedicate their lives in working for these places, they are the real gems. They could have been fancy lawyers, accountants and psychologists but instead, they chose this path.
U-turn is a non-profit, Christian-based organisation that is dedicated to, as stated in their logo, “working together to bring wholeness to the homeless”. Working with the community and other NGOs to not only bring food and shelter, but work with the homeless to help them in the long term. Helping them get off the streets permanently so they can be integrated within society again. They provide the homeless with meals and 2nd hand clothing from the vouchers that are given to them by the community. Additionally, they work with them through empowerment sessions to help them understand they’re not worthless and to regain their dignity. The sessions include, bible studies, drumming, art work and many more. They also employ ex-homeless people that have come through their system.
I had met with Lise van den Dool and KC. Both welcomed me with friendly smiles and kindness. Lise is the first phase coordinator and occupational therapist at the services centre at U-turn and is part of the rehabilitation team. These are services for people who are still living on the street or attend the alcohol and drug programmes. Upon arrival Lise, had given me a short tour around the centre showing me the 2nd clothing store, the store/working room and the kitchen where all the meals are made.
As a qualified occupational therapist, Lise had worked in the field of addiction and private psychiatry for the start of her work life. However, three years ago, U-turn had contacted her to work for them. She had stated that it came at the perfect time in her life as she wanted to move away from the private sector and be more community based. What stood out for me was her constant, pure repetition of her wanting to work with people, “you get the opportunity to really speak into someone’s life long term, and you see the change.” Therefore, Lise took up the position to be able to work with people and help them through rehabilitation. Although there are many struggles that she faces working with people, she chose to push pass that and see how her contributions can help change an individual’s life.
Kc comes from a background of Law. When I had asked what he had studied, “Law. That is why I was reading the contract like that,” he joked. However, KC has always worked with people. Besides the love of Cape Town, the reason he came to work for U-turn was because, “I realised that there was a need to do something about people from disadvantaged backgrounds that weren’t getting the right support.”
I sat in the morning session, which was a bible session, that KC had facilitated. The session was on legacy. How to start and make a legacy for yourself and setting an example for a younger generation to follow. It was such a powerful session, with the use of scripture the lesson taken away was that, legacy is not only dependent on money, when you’re empowered and have knowledge you are able to leave a legacy. Later that morning, I also witnessed their drumming session. Learning how to work in rhythm and beats.
What I found to be truly unique and special about KC and Lise is that, both individuals had mentioned the many highlights they experience almost every day at the organisation. Whether it a smile being brought to someone’s face, learning something new or seeing a change in the individuals they work with. Lise spoke about how a highlight for her is when she witnesses an individual overcome struggle, grow and move forward again.
Just being at this organisation gave me more insight into the societal issue of homelessness in South Africa. According to Human Sciences Resource Centre, there are 200 000 homeless people in South Africa. Although it may seem like a small amount relative to the national population, the fact that there are people with no homes to go to is a serious issue. Government tends to provide short term resources like overnight shelters and meals. However, this doesn’t help the individual in the long term to get them permanently off the streets. Like KC had said, “I don’t want to focus on the governments, buts what we can do at a ground level, you know, person-to-person that’s what should matter.” So instead of waiting around on governments to provide help and support. As citizens, let’s take a step closer to humanity and volunteer or help at these organisation to alleviate the societal issue of homelessness and change someone’s life for the better.
Click on this link to volunteer at U-turn. You won’t regret it!