Si­lahliwe’s guardian an­gel

Vuk'uzenzele - - Women's Month - Le­sego Ranchu

Si­lahliwe, mean­ing aban­doned, is an in­for­mal set­tle­ment lo­cated near Beth­le­hem in the Free State.

It is char­ac­terised by un­em­ploy­ment and poverty. The only bea­con of hope for many is the Mapo­jotana Co-op­er­a­tive, founded by re­tired teacher and com­mu­nity builder Pontsho Mokoena in 2012.

The co-op­er­a­tive is a food se­cu­rity pro­gramme that grows veg­eta­bles and pro­vides nu­tri­tious meals daily to about 400 res­i­dents of Si­lahliwe as well as ne­glected and frail el­derly per­sons in the com­mu­nity.

Nk­gono Pontsho, as she is fondly called, started the pro­gramme us­ing her pen­sion money af­ter she re­tired in 2011. She re­cruited an ad­di­tional four for­mer teach­ers who, in some in­stances, also con­trib­uted their mea­gre re­sources to the project.

“I still felt young and did not just want to sit at home. I al­ready had a pas­sion for food gar­dens and be­lieve that no one should go hungry when there is a lit­tle bit of land to grow on,” she said.

At the time, there was a call by the Depart­ment of Health for com­mu­ni­ties to as­sist with set­ting up soup kitchens.

“We de­cided to join the pro­gramme be­cause we had a thriv­ing gar­den by then and we were al­ready feed­ing poor peo­ple. The land we are on used to be a dump­site but with the help of the com­mu­nity, we have turned it into this beau­ti­ful sanc­tu­ary that wel­comes every­one.”

On site is a veg­etable gar­den, feed­ing hall, kitchen, sewing room, of­fice and a crèche to look af­ter the chil­dren of Si­lahliwe.

Mapo­jotana Co-op­er­a­tive is in the process of reg­is­ter­ing the crèche to meet all Early Child­hood De­vel­op­ment (ECD) re­quire­ments.

The three teach­ers have al­ready com­pleted the ba­sic ECD train­ing that was pro­vided by the Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Agency (NDA) in part­ner­ship with Tshep­ang Ed­u­care Cen­tre.

NDA fund­ing has also made it pos­si­ble for iden­ti­fied lo­cal youth to re­ceive ba­sic com­puter train­ing.

Mapo­jotana Co-op­er­a­tive cur­rently em­ploys 29 peo­ple and has 12 vol­un­teer work­ers.

Over the years, Mapo­jotana has re­ceived many awards, the most re­cent be­ing one from the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment for Best Com­mu­nity Nutri­tion De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre 2017/18.

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