Making sure hope springs from a landfill site
From the age of 12 Mthatha-born Noluyolo Mehlomakulu has worked with the impoverished eTipini community in her town.
But what started out as her school’s Christian Society’s good deeds turned into Touching Acts, a non-profit organisation founded by Mehlomakulu in her 30s.
The organisation was launched in 2017 with the purpose of providing access to good education to children who lived in eTipini, a landfill site in Mthatha.
Today, Touching Acts has a boarding house, which makes it possible for 20 children from the community to attend St Patrick’s Primary School.
“I first learnt about the eTipini community through my Sunday school with Assembly of God Church,” Mehlomakulu said.
“We would do collections for them and I remember donating one of my dresses. Later on in high school we started working with them and continued donating food parcels and clothes.”
“When I saw the way the children were living I knew I had to try to make difference. Many of them didn’t go to school at all and the ones that do, drop out after primary school. Most of their parents are substance abusers.”
Mehlomakulu, 33, went on to study accounting at the University of Fort Hare in East London. But despite moving away for her studies, the eTipini community remained important to Mehlomakulu throughout her varsity career — so much so that she roped in friends and fellow students to visit and donate items to the community during holidays.
“As the varsity’s Christian Society, we went on crusades in the area.
“We would bring food parcels and clothes to donate and would have talks with the community,” said Mehlomakulu, who now works for the auditor-general in East London.
“In 2012 eTipini was demolished by the municipality because of the high crime rate and the residents were moved to what was supposed to be a temporary location, known as Sowetho, near an electricity substation.
“So they no longer live on a landfill site but the conditions and crime rate are still bad.”
After meeting a former eTipini resident, Siziwe Mayoyo, who went on to pursue a BTech qualification from Walter Sisulu University, Mehlomakulu was inspired.
“Siziwe was such an inspiration to me because she had been through so much.
“She came from eTipini and persevered to make something of herself,” said Mehlomakulu. She finally registered Touching Acts as an NPO in 2018, and Mayoyo is now a PR officer for the organisation.
“With the consent of the parents, we managed to get 20 children into school at St Patrick’s.
“They used to board at the school’s boarding house, but we have been running our own boarding house since the beginning of the year,” Mehlomakulu said.
The Touching Acts house caters to nine boys and 11 girls between grades R and 9.
A housemother, operations manager and three caregivers run the day-to-day operations at the house.
From guidance and counselling to help with their homework and basic necessities such as food, clothing and toiletries, the children receive the love and care they need to thrive.
“Two teachers from the school also volunteer to help with maths, science and English homework every week,” Mehlomakulu said.
They survive on donations from individuals and other organisations, and Mehlomakulu is grateful for all the assistance she has received over the years.
St Patrick’s principal Zuzekile Madeloyi said Touching Acts provided a conducive and caring environment in which children could learn.
“I really appreciate what they are doing. They have given kids who come from a bad background the opportunity to have a quality education and live in a stable environment,” Madeloyi said.
Mehlomakulu said: “I feel this is what I was put on earth to do. For me it is a calling, it is more than a passion.”
“There is so much fulfilment in knowing that many kids can be like Sizwe [Mayoyo] with a little bit of help from us and I am excited to hear the stories they will be able to tell when they become doctors, presidents, pilots.
“There is hope for anyone, even if they come from a place like eTipini.”