Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Visiting Othandweni with Chevrolet's Ute Force

I visited Othandweni, a Child Welfare facility in Soweto on Monday, as the guest of Chevrolet's Ute Force. Sjoe. So many thoughts, so many emotions after the visit, that are difficult to put into words, even for a professional wordsmith like me. I'll  save them for another time, when I've figured the words out. 

But. I will say this: Othandweni was spotless. The children were happy. The children were healthy. The children were friendly. And the people that were caring for them, clearly really do care for them. And much as it completely does my head in to think why these 80 or so children are living in a facility like this, it made my heart happy to see that Othandweni is clearly Getting It Right, with the limited resources at their disposal. 

And it's in supplementing those limited resources that the Ute Force team comes in. They've put up the cash for Be Sharp Beetles to visit the under fives at Othandweni every week for the rest of the year, so that these precious littlies can benefit from some extra stimulation. The Be Sharp Beetles programme sets out to "develop happy children through music" by developing their rhythm (crucial for reading and writing later on), developing fine and gross motor skills, and that all-important developmental achievement: Crossing The Midline. 

The Ute Force team took me, @MissStaceyVee and @NickiDadic to see the programme in action, and I took the two little Haggards along for the ride too. I want them to grow up knowing that they are privileged, that there are people out there who need help, and sometimes, the best help to give is your time and your love. And cupcakes. Because cupcakes have the power to make everyone smile! 

I will be honest, my heart  nearly broke when one of the older kids said to me "Auntie, are you coming to visit us again?" when I knew perfectly well that the chances of me going back there are not huge. But I do know that the Be Sharp Beetles will be going back, for the rest of the year. 

And it's reminded me again that dip-in-jump-out charity is not how it should be done. So I consider myself well and truly nudged to find an ongoing project or relationship to build, closer to home, that is more than just about chucking money at a problem. Chevrolet has done that with the Ute Force. I hope you'll do the same. 

Here are some pics of the day - the children's faces may not be shown, but the pics will give you an idea of what we saw on our visit. 

Pics were taken by the very talented Eunice Driver 

Monday, 6 May 2013

The tricky issue of charity

I'm blessed to have all that I need - more than, actually - so I make an effort to share some of my fortune with others. I won't go into detail about what I do here, apart from the one instance that has me puzzled, and a quite angry, to be honest.

There's a man called Dennis Mitchell who has been coming to our gate for probably about three years now. He's mute, illiterate, and I think has had brushes with gangs - judging by the tattoos on his fingers. He first rang our gate bell way back when, and gave me a letter to read, I can't even remember what the story was back then - but he's always armed with a letter, that I think is written by friends or acquaintances, because it's a different handwriting every time. When I've asked him questions, he's tried to write the answers, but struggles to form letters and words.

The stories have been many over the years - there have been two children (of ages that are constantly changing), there was a girlfriend that died of TB just before Christmas last year (please can we help with food and Christmas presents), the children have been sick (please help with medicine), the children have needed school uniforms for KEPS (please help with money for uniforms), then they needed school fees for a school far away because they were sent to live with their granny (please help with school fees), then it was a child's birthday (please help me make a little party)...

I've long stopped believing the stories, mainly after the KEPS story, when I really thought there was an opportunity to help two kids make their way out of what is clearly not a great situation. Maybe if I took on their school fees, he would have the resources to sort out the uniforms. I've helped kids with school fees before - and have learned that any money for this should be paid directly to the school - to make sure that it is actually used for that intention. KEPS took a couple of days to dig through their records, ask around, and check their registration - but there was no record of Dennis or of his children.

There was another instance where the letter told of the two sick children, begging for medication to help break their fever. I gave him a bottle of Lotem, warm clothes for the kids - a big bag of stuff, including food for him. We left home shortly after that, and I saw him chatting to a lady on the street corner... clearly trying to sell her the stuff I'd just given him.

So. My new rule became that I don't read the letters. I do however, always give him food when he rings our doorbell - usually a can or two, including something with meat in it - and whatever bread is in the bread bin. He's usually at our gate once a fortnight or so, sometimes every week.

Yesterday I was out, and Brett phoned - Dennis was at the gate, with a letter asking for money to help him buy formula for his nine month old twins.

At which point I lost my rag fairly significantly. I get that it's completely none of my business, but what the hell is this guy doing procreating AGAIN if he is in such dire financial and life straits that he is compelled to beg for food?  Actually, that's when it does become my business - because he's asking me to support them! And, here's the next judgmental opinion from me: if him being disabled is not a barrier to snagging himself a girlfriend and getting her pregnant with TWO children - why is it a barrier to him finding work?

Or are the twins yet another fabrication?

I guess I'm also quite jaded about this - there are just so many people at every turn, standing with a hand out, asking for help. There are the ones that clearly do need every bit of help they can get - there's a guy who begs on Glenhove in Melrose who literally has nothing below the hips. I have no idea how his body mechanics work, but he sits (can you call it that?) on the road at the traffic light. Him, I will, and have, given money to, and food.

But there are the guys near Montecasino, and others, who contort themselves into all sorts of caricatures of disability to gain sympathy - and then walk up straight as soon as the robots change. There's the young woman in Norwood last night, who looks completely able to be a receptionist, a waitress, an admin clerk, even a cleaning lady - but there she was standing begging for money.

I work hard for my money, as does my husband. We do it honestly, and with a focus on creating good environments for other people to work. We help where we can, with what we can, to make our little corner of the world a better place.

But it makes me so angry when people lie to play on our sympathies to weasel money out of us - when if they were prepared to work just a little bit, they could sort themselves out.

I know this is an emotive issue, and there are all sorts of reasons that people beg,that so many people just do have perpetual bad luck,  and that if everyone helped someone else, the world (and more specifically this country) would be a better place.

However, I'm so tired of so many people looking to me to fund their lives, and lying to me when they do so.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Review: EnMasse Massage

Brett and I both enjoy massages, but we visited enmasse for the first time as part of a package we took for our wedding anniversary in March. We've just been back for a second time, and I hope we'll return several times more! 

What's special about this spot, in a city that is littered with spas offering all sorts of massage, manicure, facial and beauty treatments (where sometimes deciphering the menu is so much effort you just move on to the next one...)? 

There a few things that we love about this spot. 

Firstly and most importantly - the massages are fantastic, maybe because they've kept their focus on that - enmasse only offers massages, not a confusing array of other stuff. It offers Thai massages, which as Brett says is a bit like having yoga done to you. There's no lying about on a table here - you're taken to a room sectioned off with waist-height blinds, and you lie down on a huge, comfy mattress on the floor. Your therapist asks if there are any particular areas that need attention, and then sets about working them. Once she's untied the necessary knots (and my back has more knots than a macrame piece), she gets to the stretching. Much as you're still lying there being massaged, this is a far more active massage than the ones we're used to - and it's great. You emerge feeling like you've been tugged, pulled and pushed - in a good way - and that all the tightness, stress and exhaustion has been firmly banished. 

Secondly - this is a dry massage - so there are no gooey oils involved. When you arrive, you're handed a set of cotton pyjamas that are loose and comfy, and you change into those for the massage. There's no compromising of any modesty - you're completely covered at all times. And you're not covered in goo, having to wash your hair and take a shower when you're done - you can literally put your clothes back on and carry on with your day when your massage is complete. 

Next - one of the things that I hate about spas is the plinky plonky pan flutey music that they all seem to think is so calming. It's not. It's awful. And it's the same wherever you go. enmasse plays a wide selection of chilled but interesting music - think along the lines of Morcheeba, for example, and at just the right volume too. 

Once you're done with your massage, there's a wide selection of leaf teas that you can choose to indulge in - most are free, but others come at a small charge. You get to enjoy a bit of a tea ceremony in the comfortable lounge, which is all part of the relaxing experience, and read an international magazine or two. (My only complaint? The magazines are all quite old. Some new ones would do nicely)

You can also purchase the teas, the beautiful glasses that it's served in, and the cotton pyjamas, if you choose. 

An hour massage at enmasse costs R395, but there are monthly memberships available that see the cost of each session reducing. For us, it's incredibly centrally located, on the corner of Corlett Drive and Oxford Road, and you can use their private off street parking, accessed on Corlett Drive just next to the Greek restaurant. 

Now. Go and do it. You'll thank me later. 

The money business: This is not a sponsored review in any way - we paid our own way for this one.