YOU TELL US
Three readers share how they managed to turn their lives around after finding themselves destitute.
Three readers on overcoming living on the streets
LIFE AS I KNEW IT
I was born in a small town called Victoria West in the Northern Cape where I lived with my family. Financial difficulties drove my grandmother to work in Cape Town. She did not visit nor stay in touch, and we were worried. So, my parents and I packed up and went to look for her. We found her in Wynberg, jobless and homeless. She had lost her job due to excessive drinking. By the time we found her, we had also run out of money and were unable to go back home.
I was four years old when we started living on the streets. And, the older I got the more I became aware of my surroundings. People always stared at us when we walked through the streets with our trolleys. A typical day included rummaging through rubbish bins for anything of value that we could take to the scrapyard in exchange for money. When I started school at Rosmead Primary in Claremont, my parents would walk with me and then go on with their day. For most of my primary school days, my mother worked as a domestic worker while my dad held odd jobs in between. After school, I would do my homework on a bench opposite the factories where we had settled; our spot. My parents would return in the evening. Then my dad would make a fire and mom would cook. After supper we would go to sleep. At this point, my grandmother was living in an old age home.
THE TURNING POINT
Colleen Lewis, who ran a soup kitchen for the homeless, invited us to a church called St. Stephen in Claremont.
When I was 13 years old, my mother desperately wanted me off the streets because she was worried that men would no longer see me as a child. One day, Colleen told my parents that a family was willing to take me in. I remember my mother telling me the news; I was so excited. I was finally going to sleep in my own bed and room, and open a fridge for some yoghurt or juice. The best part was that this was my Sunday school teacher’s family. I felt so relieved and overwhelmed because I knew them already. A week later, I moved in with the Williams family. I was in grade 7 at the time, and it was a huge adjustment mentally, emotionally and physically. The Williams family did their best at preparing me for my new life with them, and although I wasn’t living with my parents anymore I still visited them on the streets. I also received a bursary from the Spirit Foundation which paid for my high school education. After matric, I studied a national diploma in entrepreneurship at Cape Peninsula University of Technology and graduated. I now work as a policy administrator for an insurance company. My father died in December 2008, and my mother now lives in Philippi township with her cousin.
Living on the streets taught me not to judge people. I’m grateful to God, my parents and everyone who has positively contributed to helping me become the person that I am today. All their efforts, love and support carried me through it all. I am now a mother, and live a happy life with my daughter.
Melowdy Louw (29) lived on the streets of Claremont, Cape Town, with her family for 10 years before another family took her in.
LIFE AS I KNEW IT
In 2008, I was living in Johannesburg and happy to graduate with a degree in marketing from the University of the Witwatersrand. I immediately got a job as a content producer for the sports television channel, SuperSport. But, I was retrenched after the FIFA 2010 World Cup. However, I remained optimistic because I believed that my degree and work experience would help me get another job soon. Around the same time, I met and fell in love with a man who would later be the father of my child.
I struggled to find a job, and not having a source of income was emotionally draining. I found myself stuck in an abusive relationship with the father of my child. I didn’t want to go home in Nelspruit and be a burden to my family. So, I stayed and endured the physical abuse because my daughter and I had nowhere else to go. It got so bad that in November 2013, I was admitted at the Hillbrow General Hospital. It took a month for me to heal. Furthermore, I was suffering from severe depression. My mother took care of my daughter while I was in hospital, and this gave me time to focus on getting better. My situation was dire, and in January 2014 I was referred to the Frida Hartley Shelter for abused women and children.
THE TURNING POINT
Even though I was in dire straits, I still didn’t want to be a burden to my family. My daughter and I received a warm welcome at the shelter. I also received counselling, and my daughter attended a day-care centre on the premises while I was out job hunting. The support I received was very helpful, and in 2015 I found a job at a call centre. I then moved into a backroom in Soweto, and my daughter went to live with her father. This was very hard for me, but I knew that I had to get back on my feet to take better care of her. A homeless man that I had met when I was at the shelter asked for my CV. He wanted to give it to a man that worked at a radio station who often gave him food. This led to me getting a job as a creative writer for two radio shows. I worked hard and managed to get promoted to being a content producer. My finances were much better, and my daughter came to live with me. Last year, I decided to move to Durban for a fresh start for the both of us. I have an amazing job, my daughter is happy and I’m living the life that I always dreamt of. I’m glad that I never gave up, and I’ll forever be grateful to the shelter that embraced me without any judgement.
Ntombikayise Sally Dumisa (31) stayed at the Frida Hartley Shelter in Johannesburg for over a year after being retrenched and leaving an abusive relationship.
LIFE AS I KNEW IT
I was born into a poverty-stricken home, and raised by a single mother in Sebokeng township, Vaal. We hardly had food to eat; I hated my life. When I was 11 years old, I wanted to get away from all the poverty, and decided to run away. I believed that I was helping my mother, and that I would create a better life for myself.
I was told that life is better in the city, and I went to live on the streets of
Vaal CBD. As soon as I arrived, the other street kids welcomed me. They taught me to how beg, showed me where to sleep and how to survive. Older boys often came to bully us by forcing us to help them do petty crimes on the streets. When I could, I ran away from them because I preferred smoking glue and begging for food and money at the traffic lights. Life was tough, and there were times when I would go back home to spend a few days before going back to the streets. During those days I would miss smoking glue because it made everything disappear; I was addicted to it.
THE TURNING POINT
At 16, while I was begging, I met a man whom I believe was an angel. He told me that God instructed him to save me. At first, I refused his help but he insisted and kept coming back. I eventually accepted because he kept telling me about the grace of God, and it reminded me of my mother who was a devoted Christian. He took me to a social worker, and that was the last time I saw him; I wish I had taken his number. I was placed at the Turning Point Home in the Johannesburg CBD, which is a shelter run by the St. George’s Church. The teachings of the church inspired me to become a Christian, and my life changed for the better. I stopped smoking glue and went back to school. After matric in 2015, I enrolled at the HTA School of Culinary Art and graduated the following year with a level 2 patisserie diploma. I baked and sold biscuits to make extra money, and to give back
Anele Alfred Nqayi (28) ran away from home, became a street kid and eventually lived at the Turning Point Home Shelter until the age of 20.
to the church and community. At 20 years old, I moved out of the shelter with a qualification and job. Over the years, I’ve worked at Johannesburg’s prestigious hotels such as The Saxon Hotel, Radisson Blue, Hilton Hotel in Sandton and LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort in the US. I was once a street kid, and today I’m the proud founder of The Gourmet Eats, a pop-up restaurant business that I’m focused on growing. My mother still lives in Sebokeng, and I hope that my story will inspire others to believe in themselves.