Generous couple bring solace to elderly grant beneficiaries

Thanks to Odwa and Nwabisa Wopula, pensioners queuing at payout points in Lusikisiki and Flagstaff now being served hot meals

Lusikisiki couple and business partners Nwabisa and Odwa Wopula.
BIG HEARTS: Lusikisiki couple and business partners Nwabisa and Odwa Wopula.

Snaking queues of hungry people, including the elderly, desperate to get their hands on grant money on payout days have become a common feature, particularly in many rural Eastern Cape towns.

Sometimes the beneficiaries, who often travel long distances from villages to town to access their monthly grants, are forced to return empty-handed after queuing the whole day, and have to come back the next day.

Thanks to married couple Odwa Wopula and his wife and business partner Nwabisa, who started a soup kitchen in May, elderly Sassa grant beneficiaries in Lusikisiki and Flagstaff are now being served hot meals while queuing for their grants at the post office.

Odwa is a qualified electrical technician and has previously worked for companies including Vodacom before quitting to go into business in 2010.

Nwabisa used to work for Nedbank but left in 2017 to join her husband in the business world.

The pair have been running an events management company called Bags on Call since 2018 which does funerals, weddings, tombstone unveilings, traditional initiation homecoming ceremonies (imigidi) and corporate gigs.

The Wopulas were featured in the Daily Dispatch earlier this year after hosting the first-ever mass wedding for five lucky couples in Lusikisiki.

Odwa said this week that Lusikisiki’s image had been dented because of the prevalence of serious crimes, including gender-based violence, in the area.

“They pay school fees and feed families. Basically, they have to use that money on looking after households. Hence we decided that with whatever little we have, let us start a soup kitchen and provide them with meals,”
Odwa Wopula

“When you think of this place, you always think negatively. We thought we could fight back.

“One of the things we looked at was the vulnerability of elderly people.

“For whatever reason, there is this culture of people sleeping next to the post office and spending the whole day waiting for their [grant] money.

“They stay the whole day and don’t take medication because they don’t have anything to eat.

“Even by the time they have to go collect their grants, there is already no food at home.”

Elderly people were also often the breadwinners and had to take care of many family members from their meagre pensions.

“They pay school fees and feed families. Basically, they have to use that money on looking after households.

“Hence we decided that with whatever little we have, let us start a soup kitchen and provide them with meals,” Odwa said.

Nwabisa said they were amazed to see elderly people huddled around small fires near post offices at night, waiting for morning so they could avoid long queues.

“They cannot go back home even if they don’t get the money. So sometimes they spend more days outside the post office waiting for a chance to get their grants.”

The couple have also been instrumental in collecting and donating wheelchairs to disabled people in and around Lusikisiki.

Odwa said this was influenced by a personal tragedy — when their nine-year-old son, Khulasande, who was born with cerebral palsy, passed away earlier this year.

Instead of sending him to a special school, they had decided to educate him themselves and bought all necessary support materials and equipment such as wheelchairs, nebulisers, braces and oxygen masks to make his life comfortable.

“We thought these things are too expensive. We felt there are people out there who might need them but cannot afford them and so we put out a post and we received calls from people as far afield as Rustenburg and Mpumalanga and all over South Africa.

“People were desperate because these things are very pricey,” he said.

They invited other people who had such equipment but were no longer using it to donate it so it could be used by others in need.

So far they have managed to collect and donate seven wheelchairs.

The Wopulas attributed their generosity to their rural village upbringing.

Odwa said at his home, more than 20 plates of food were dished up each meal time and he only learnt later that some of the children he grew up with were not his siblings.

Nwabisa had a similar upbringing. The couple, who grew up five houses apart and have known each other since they were young, were taught the importance of respecting the elderly and sharing with the less fortunate.

Budding photojournalist Bonga Mhloli, who nominated the Wopulas for Local Heroes, said they were an inspiration and that young couples could learn a lot from them, not only about how to love and respect each other, but also how to bring about positive change in their own communities.

“They are doing a great job of putting our town on the map,” he said.             



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