Inspiring change while being themselves
The Daily Dispatch/Johnson & Johnson Top 12 Local Heroes for 2018 are all ordinary citizens making an extraordinary difference to the lives of those around them
Debbie Kleinenberg: CHOC
She has offered psychosocial and emotional support, transport, meals and accommodation to children with cancer and their families for more than a decade – and has no plans to slow down.
Durban-born Debbie Kleinenberg, 60, founded the Children’s Haematology Oncology Clinics (Choc) foundation in the Eastern Cape, an NGO that looks after children with cancer and supports families attending Frere Hospital for treatment.
The patients, who range from infants to 15-year-olds, are accommodated at no cost from the time they are diagnosed with cancer, and are transported to and from the hospital.
The patients live at the colourful Choc house in Edge Road in East London’s Beacon Bay which sports 19 beds covered in character linens and is regularly visited by 27 dedicated volunteers.
“I feel so blessed to do a job that I am passionate about without financial remuneration but with satisfaction,” Kleinenberg said.
Teaching for 25 years before walking away from the profession in search of a new challenge, Kleinenberg’s decision to work with cancer patients came easily, as her father died of leukaemia.
The foundation also offers bereavement counselling and long-term counselling and relationships with the families. “Our goal is to walk the whole journey with them,” said Kleinenberg.
Merran Roy: Intlantsi
Children from Peddie and its surrounds are learning to use art play therapy to help them address issues in their communities, thanks to art psychotherapists, Merran Roy and Mojalefa Koyana.
Founding her NGO, Intlantsi, with the help of Koyana, Roy has developed a programme that encourages children to explore their creative spark.
Using art psychotherapy principles that focus on the art-making process as therapeutic practice, Intlantsi provides a safe space for children to play and create using various art mediums, including visual art, drama, dance, music and story-telling during weekly sessions incorporated into school timetables.
Present in seven schools across six villages in the Ngqushwa local municipality in the Eastern Cape, including Gcinisa, Lovers Twist and Mgababa, 800 children, ranging from play school level to Grade 9, benefit from these sessions.
Recruiting young adults from the community to become art session facilitators, Roy and Koyana’s shared vision is to facilitate and support creativity in marginalised communities, creating a programme that can be self-sustainable.
Benjamin Rexana: Cyfadance
Growing up in a troubled neighbourhood inspired Mdantsane resident Benjamin Rexana to start the CyfaDance Community Development Project.
The project, which was started in 2008 in Mdantsane’s NU9, sees Rexana teach more than 25 children, from the age of seven, the art of hip-hop and breakdancing.
He offers the weekly dance classes for free in an old building in the area, and recently expanded the project to run in the Parkside community, teaching classes at John Bisseker High School.
“Growing up, most of my friends were involved with crime and drugs, and I knew I had to do something to motivate those younger than me not to follow the same trend,” said the 31-year-old dancer and model.
“I have watched my friends become drug addicts. I’ve been robbed at gunpoint twice and seen others get mugged and stabbed on the street. I’ve even watched one of my closest friends get arrested for stealing.”
Rexana said that dance was always his escape.
The project is Rexana’s way of giving back to his community and teaches youngsters that there is more to life.
“It’s not just about saying no to drugs or crime. It’s about showing them that they can achieve great things and teaching them to treat each other with kindness and respect,” he said.
Mike Webb: The Pink Fairy
After running his 12th consecutive Comrades Marathon eight years ago, King William’s Town’s Mike Webb, also known as the Pink Fairy, decided to spice things up and do his next Comrades in aid of the Pink Drive initiative.
He did this by wearing pink fairy wings when running. Since then, every Comrades Webb has run has been in aid of his chosen organisation, the King William’s Town SPCA.
“My first run with pink wings on was so much fun and I saw the potential to do some good with it, so the Pink Fairy idea was born.
“I chose the King SPCA because my family and I are all huge animal lovers and because the organisation does incredible work over a wide area,” said Webb.
Using different methods to fundraise each year, including getting the public to pledge a certain amount per kilometre he runs, as well as selling “giant” puzzle pieces and a “nude” calendar, Webb has raised over R300,000 for the KWT SPCA in the last six years.
So far this year Webb has raised over R45,000 for various SPCAs in the Border region by tackling 10 big races, including the Ironman 70.3, RB Africa 110km three-day run, Buffs Marathon, Addo 77km trail run and more, before completing his 20th Comrades.
“I will continue doing this as long as my legs and wings carry me,” said Webb.
Donae Goosen: Donae Goosen Soup Kitchen
The thought of a child enduring a schoolday hungry propels East London woman Donae Goosen to wake up at 3.45am every weekday morning to prepare food for roughly 20 children, who might otherwise go without.
The children come past on their way to school for breakfast and each receives a packed school lunch as they leave.
And when she has to dash off to catch her lift to work as a pre-school teacher, she leaves her neighbour, Ernest Allison, to hand out the food.
Goosen says growing up with a drug-addicted father, who has now been clean for over 20 years, meant she “knows where the children come from – I can relate”.
On Saturdays Goosen helps the entire community when she hosts a soup kitchen to feed hundreds. With the help of two of the three 2017 Daily Dispatch/Johnson & Johnson local hero business award recipients, PnA Stationers and Premier Hotel Group she feeds over 400 people.
Luyolo Mapekula: Masiphumelele Family Support Group
The Masiphumelele Family Support Centre in Grahamstown was founded by the God’s Glory Assembly in 2010 when they began supplying disadvantaged families in Joza township with school uniforms, food and other clothing.
In 2016 Luvuyo Mapekula, 34, felt drawn to help the needy in the area and began working with the church-funded centre through the introduction of educational assist programmes.
The Rhodes University lab technical officer introduced a tutoring programme, where children in grades 7 to 12 in the area receive help with mathematics and physical science subjects.
When pupils have decided which career path they would like to follow, Mapekula steps in to organise them opportunities to job shadow over weekends and holidays.
Mapekula says he wants to see the youth prospering and to be well-informed from a young age.
Ntombozuko Ndamase: Emthonjeni Wokuphila
For the last 13 years, former nurse, Ntombozuko Ndamase, 68, has dedicated her days to working with the elderly in KwaMxhalanga village near King William’s Town, keeping them active with exercises, craftwork, singing and sharing their experiences with one another.
More than 50 elderly people from the village wake up every day looking forward to spending time in a prefab structure that is the base of her NGO, Emthonjeni Wokuphila.
For the more sprightly, there is plenty of gardening to do as well. Craftmaking includes stitching cushion covers, cloths, mat trays and aprons, as well as beadwork.
As founder and director of the centre, Ndamase said when she retired from nursing in Grahamstown she felt the need to offer her services to the elderly.
“At the time, there were many stories of old people being killed in the Transkei, accused of being witches. I didn’t want that in my community,” she said.
“My compassion and the fact that I am a woman of God makes me want to help the elderly. I wanted to shine a light in my community.”
Along with the help of four caregivers, Ndamase provides the elderly with two meals every day – breakfast and lunch. A mobile clinic visits the centre once a month, bringing the senior citizens their chronic medication.
Adv Bonnie Mzimba: Powerhouse Development Services
Having to process her husband’s death as well as comfort five children, was the spark that drove Boniswa “Bonnie” Mzimba to want to help widows.
Mzimba, who lost her husband 16 years ago, started the non-profit organisation – Powerhouse Development Services (PDS) – to assist widows who she believes are often neglected by society.
As her husband had been a practising attorney, Mzimba, a nurse at the time of his death, realised there was a need for lawyers who could assist widows and so she set about getting herself a law degree.
PDS offers support services from educating widows about their rights to coaching them on the way forward.
PDS has an SMS line, Widow on Call, for vulnerable widows who may have been abused via cultural traditions or any other form of abuse. They can send a text with their problem to 072-461-0891, and they will be linked with someone who can assist with their problem.
Pateka Mtintsilana: Loaves and Fishes Network
Established in 2006, the Loaves and Fishes Network has actively provided a helping hand to children living on the margins of society for more than a decade.
It supports a number of daycare establishments in Ducats, Reeston, Nompumelelo, Mzamomhle, Scenery Park, Tsholomnqa and Nxarhuni.
One of those is Yafente Daycare Centre run by Nondithini Ntutu in Scenery Park.
Yafente Daycare Centre’s relationship with the Loaves and Fishes Network began in 2015 when it began providing Early Childhood Development (ECD) training well as the food, toys and equipment that they did not have.
Any daycare centre helped by the Loaves and Fishes Network has to participate in the ECD programme. The centres’ practitioners are trained by professionals, including psychologists and social workers, provided by the network.
While the network started with only six educare centres, it now helps 30 in the BCM area.
Nozie Mswi: Rising Sun Daycare
Along a narrow makeshift road, tucked behind a spaza shop in Duncan Village, the Rising Sun Daycare shines brighter than ever.
The daycare was founded by the late Nozie Mswi, five years ago, after she saw young children regularly playing near a dump site instead of going to school.
Catering to 35 little faces, the centre offers a safe place to play and learn as well as two meals a day.
Mswi’s husband, George and daughter, Sanele, took over the running of the centre after Mswi’s death in June this year, and the father-daughter team have endeavoured to keep Mswi’s dream alive.
“My mom always gave 100% to Rising Sun and, although it started out as a way to help support our family , it quickly became something much bigger,” said Sanele, 21.
Under Nozie’s leadership, the daycare thrived, receiving support from the East London community and winning the 2017 Inspiration Awards for its dedication to making a difference in the lives of so many children.
Mswi selflessly gave her time and efforts to bettering her community and while she is no longer with us, her daycare continues to flourish.
“The greatest lesson my mom left us with is that no matter how little you have to give, there is always someone who can benefit from your help” said Sanele.
Ntombizanele Vellem: Ubuhle Bezwe – the Wise Girlz
More than 50 children in NU15 in Mdantsane are being equipped with life skills and have improved their reading – all thanks to the founder of Ubuhle Bezwe (beauty of the world) – the Wise Girlz.
The project was founded in 2016 by primary school teacher, Ntombizanele Vellem, who worried ceaselessly about the many little girls she saw roaming around the streets.
Vellem found a way to keep young girls in her neighbourhood busy with new and positive activities, including life lessons, age-appropriate books and toys. They also practice activities such as umxhentso (traditional dancing).
Within two months Vellem’s four-roomed house was packed with children and she now runs afternoon sessions twice a week.
Buhle Ntsebeza: Bathandwa Ndondo Legacy Project
Dedicated to giving township pupils a better chance at life, East London resident Buhle Ntsebeza has established regular after-school rugby lessons at Kusile Comprehensive and Nompumelelo Primary schools in Duncan Village.
The lessons form part of a co-curricular programme initiated by Ntsebeza’s NGO, Students Rule. The rugby programme, named the Bathandwa Ndondo Legacy Project, aims to introduce and sustain extramural activities at these schools and works to link them to former Model C schools – or better-equipped schools – through a “big brother” system.
The Bathandwa Ndondo Legacy Project, which he named in honour of his late anti-apartheid activist grandfather, has also established other extramural activities in the township schools, such as debating, chess, drama, and book clubs.