Driven by purpose

by Mihle Mapoma
1 June 2023
1 June 2023

Savings groups are a powerful tool for individuals to improve their lives. Now, in the village of Mehloloaneng, Matatiele, a savings group has gone a step further, and is aiding the upliftment of their community.

The group, started in 2016, was inspired by the ABCD training that some of its members attended under WAYSE last year. ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development) is a training process that helps communities to see potential in their own areas when contemplating local development WAYSE is a project that aims to improve livelihoods for women and youth.

At the ABCD training session, members learnt that they could keep their community going by opening businesses, trading with each other, and supporting their neighbours. In a later discussion, the members decided to do something long-lasting and sustainable in their community. The vehicle would be their SG, which has since set up the Sinenjongo Multi-purpose Non-Profit Company (NPC). ‘Sinenjongo’ means ‘We have a purpose’.

After attending the initial ABCD training the SG group drew up an entire community plan on an A3 piece of cardboard. It includes everything they would like to improve and start in Mehloloaneng, ranging from an orphanage, a youth centre, a library, and sports grounds for the youth to use whenever they’d like. When looked at from a bird’s eye point of view, the plan shows that each building would be placed in a circle – with the sports ground in the middle. This symbolizes how the community will protect all these children, how each place isn’t too far away from the other, and communicates the message that help comes from anywhere one turns.

The group of 15 started by farming a communal garden, which they had first discussed a few years before. Members agreed that in addition to their own gardens they would also give time every day to work at the communal garden. They found a piece of land on the outskirts of the village, facing the Drakensberg mountain range, and decided that it was the best place to start. The garden is 500×500 metres and has been cordoned off, thanks to an organisation called ‘African Solutions to African Problems’ (ASAP), that the group met with after they had registered their NPC certificate.

The journey of the garden was marred by a few problems, some of which still persist. Because the men and women of Sinenjongo wanted their organisation to outlive them, they decided that it had to become a separate entity outside of their savings group and community meets. Their first attempt to get the NPC registered, after pooling together R900 to get it done, failed due to the company giving them the run-around. The second attempt at it, which was done with a further raised R750, was successful however, and Sinenjongo was fully registered.

Once the garden was up and running, security became a problem because it was unfenced. Water availability was also a problem as it did not have its own irrigation system. This is where ASAP came in, providing fencing and two Jojo tanks for water. The organisation saw how serious the group was about this garden, having also started selling produce to not only their own community, but nearby communities as well. Sinenjongo were also working on brokering a deal with Boxer at that juncture, but that deal never reached fruition from Boxer’s side.

Security is still a big concern for these purpose-driven people, in that the garden is on the outskirts of the village, with no security guard or anyone patrolling the crops. With them now having regular fruitful harvests of maize, potatoes, aubergines, green peppers, kale, cabbage, spinach and other vegetables, including a few fruit trees; the garden is garnering more attention.

In the meantime, the NPC is forging ahead and has changed direction; it has stopped selling the produce and instead is using the food to feed the almost 100 children in their nutrition programme. This programme was given the go-ahead by the chief, after he saw the determination in their voices and light in their eyes, when talking about their project. The nutrition programme runs from Monday to Friday, every day after the primary and high school close respectively. The main staples of each meal, outside of the vegetables sourced from the communal garden, are pap maize meal and samp.

The group are also helping the community in other ways. They went to the individual schools and asked for a list of children with no birth certificates, because another branch in their tree is helping children get these, and identity documents (IDs). This process involves DNA tests for some, going to social workers, going to court, Home Affairs and the like. These are all things Sinenjongo members take in their stride. This is another part of the work divided amongst everyone — whoever is available to take children to a social worker, or the clinic for an appointment, does so.

The clinic appointments are a part of the purpose of this particular savings group. If a child in their nutrition programme is ill, or the parents of a child in the programme, they are taken by a Sinenjongo member to the clinic for a check-up. The group also pays for whatever medication may be needed from that appointment. The savings group has a budget that has been set aside, that members contribute to; this money is collected at the monthly savings group meeting. The group members explain that it is also important to make sure that the parents in the community are healthy, so as to be able to continue taking care of their children.

The next goal for the Sinenjongo members, aside from breaking ground on one of the buildings in the community plan, is to get more land; at least 10 hectares they say – so that they can expand the community garden to be able to feed more people. In addition to that, they want to figure out a solution to the security concerns, that will also inevitably follow them to the new land area. The members share that security has been a concern from the very beginning, and with food prices being the way they are, no one can blame the community for wanting to get free food. However, the members say, there is a way to go about it, and that should not impede what the communal garden was put in place for  feeding the children of the community of Mehloloaneng.

WAYSE is supported by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the GermanFederal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

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