Veggie garden gives dignity to homeless
Street people learn new skills
HOMELESS people in the CBD are getting a shot at a new beginning thanks to a vegetable garden project.
Volunteer gardeners who have been homeless for years are being trained at a 350m veggie garden on land owned by Fruit and Veg City in Roeland Street, courtesy of a joint initiative involving Khulisa Social Services, the Ackerman Pick n Pay Foundation, Central City Improvement District (CCID) and the provincial agriculture department.
The garden is made up of a total of 51 boxes, each 2m x 1m, which are watered from a mountain stream.
KSS has also signed a fiveyear contract with Trafalgar High School in District Six for about 500m² of land that is being prepared.
Street people who have completed training will take over the Trafalgar garden in which pupils will also participate.
This week the homeless gardeners, who earn a monthly stipend, told Weekend Argus that although the project was in its infancy, they were excited and enjoying their work.
Simphiwe Ncaphayi, a 52year-old father of three, said he had lived on the streets since 2010 when a fight with his siblings had resulted in his losing his job.
Originally from the Eastern Cape, he said the garden job had helped him regain his dignity.
“There has definitely been change in my life since I joined this gardening project last year. I have regained my selfworth and have been able to go back to my family with pride as a man, because now I can at least contribute something toward the basic needs of the household.”
Lee Stemmet, 28, has been on the street for 21 years and said he was delighted to be able to afford a roof over his head. “I left home when I was 7 because I had been adopted. I never knew my real parents and my adoptive parents abused me so I ran away.
“Life on the streets is tough because it leads you to bad friends and I even started using drugs at the age of 15.
“I had no purpose in life back then, but since I started working in the garden I have learnt so much and I have been able to rent a small room where I now live and am safe.”
A third worker, Zamuzolo Masabalala, said the job had helped him gather the courage to reunite with his family in the Eastern Cape whom he last saw in 1998.
“Now I will be able to go home and be a father to the child I left back in 1998.”
Khulisa is a non- profit organisation which provides alternative sentencing services at the Cape Town Community Court. The project operates from a soup kitchen, the Service Dining Rooms, in Canterbury Street in the city centre.
‘I have regained
Khulisa strategic partnership manager Jesse Laitinen said the project was designed to help homeless people regain dignity through sustainable work.
“There are no sustainable jobs for homeless people. But through this project they get a chance to work in a supportive environment developed around each individual.
“This allows them to turn their lives around, make different choices.”
Laitinen said a pilot food gardening project they ran early this year saw 77 percent of the people involved move off the streets and 68 percent address their substance abuse problems.
“There are so many invisible barriers to overcome. Even opening bank accounts for them is difficult. But we are committed to the work we do, so we stay positive,”
She said the provincial agriculture department had agreed to donate soil, seedlings and gardening equipment to help keep the project going.
Giselle Terblanche, the department’s assistant communications director, said they would fund six permanent workers and a further 24 seasonal workers who would maintain the gardens with a budget of R86 500. The plan is for the vegetables to be sold in stores, with all proceeds going to gardeners’ salaries, plus any tools needed, and the training of future gardeners.
NURTURING: Lauren Fredericks, left, and Lee Stemmet water seedlings at the vegetable garden off Roeland Street.