When communities connect, amazing things happen. Unplanned breakthroughs, doors opening at just the right moment, facilitating a series of fortunate events that lead to genuine miracles. In exactly this way, an email between strangers, lead to take-away containers for 700 support staff, which helped the manager of a homeless shelter in the city feed 150 people in Smallville, many kilometres away.
I saw the announcement in the Cape Town Together fb group. Seb from Bamboo Plant Power posted a call-out for volunteers to assist his vegan restaurant-turned-soup-kitchen in making meals. I live just around the corner, and as a vegan this seemed particularly perfect. In the few days that it took him to respond to my email, I had joined the CBD CAN and quickly gotten involved in connecting more closely with members and starting to map our capacity. By the time I got his email, I could comfortably sign my name as “Zoe, CBD helpdesk & liaison”. He said that he had enough volunteers, but that he was urgently looking for some take-away containers for 1400 meals to be delivered to the Cape Flats in a few days. I promised to see what I could do. The call went out to the ad-hoc logistics team we had assembled in the space of a day, and soon enough Jess, a freelance film producer, was on the hunt.
We debated the wisdom of using take away containers. In the 24 or so hours since the email from Seb, it had become clear within the broader Cape Town Together community that it made more sense for kids to bring their own bowls and cutlery. However, Jess realized after speaking to Seb that the containers were for the 700 or so support staff needed at the site and during the process. Within less than two days of the original request, the containers were delivered, thanks to Tarek from Cedar Catering.
That night I received a grateful email from Seb, letting me know that there will probably be some left-over meals, and if we can think of anywhere to take it, we could have them. I thought of our local Pride Shelter here in town, and asked Nikki about it. Turns out, she knew of a community in distress who could use the meal. It was payed forward to Smallville, where Aspire Youth distributed it amongst the people. Somehow what started as a message on a 10 000+ facebook group, followed by an email, and shared to our CAN (community action network) Whatsapp group, turned into what can only be described as a small miracle.
See, most of us involved in this process, are not full-time volunteers. We don't belong to big organizations. We don't know each other either. But bound together by our commitment to being useful at this time, to share what is within our power to share, even if it's just taking the initiative to send an email, to have a conversation, to reach out. Somehow from eyes, to fingertips, to ears, from eager hearts and hands to hungry mouths - we connect. Each person pushing themselves that little bit beyond the familiar, to embrace the potential of what might be possible. And all of this while most of us are in isolation. See? Miracle!
This was the first real accomplishment I was fortunate to share with a set of perfect strangers, since the Lockdown began. And I treasure it. Reaching out into the world right now reveals so many flaws in the system, so much disconnection, so much distress. Watching the gathering storm, I am in awe of the things that ordinary citizens are accomplishing every day. Sharing food, making masks, looking after others, connecting, talking about, mapping. This city is by no means perfect, but I feel part of something big and beautiful right now. Something which feels to me like new blood reviving an old heart pulsing with urgency, life, and love.
Right now, our CAN is involved in a number of projects. We have the Khayelitsha Food For 200 Familes fundraising campaign. Some of our members have been helping the Empolweni community who were unlawfully evicted during the Lockdown. Spoiler alert – they won the right to return to their homes. We are involved in making and distributing masks to the CCID, and local workers in the area. We are also building connections with our sister CAN's around us, and as far away as Muizenberg, Durbanville, Kuilsriver, Langeberg, Eersterivier. All of these groups are made up of a mix of citizen volunteers from all walks of life, experienced community organizers, and everything in-between. There is so much work, and something for everyone to do.
If you have been wondering how to get involved, beyond giving donations of money or food, know that every connection counts. Building a forest of people who all have the well-being of the entire community in mind, chances are you can play an essential part somewhere in the story. Whether it's making phone calls, helping to clarify information, helping someone think by listening as they talk through a problem, sharing our calls to action with your friends on Facebook or Instagram, offering to design a poster for a fundraising concert. You name it, there is something to do. And the people you're gonna meet? Chances are you'll feel enriched by knowing them, guaranteed.
The key is to take initiative. Don't wait for permission, but do choose collaboration. If you see something amiss in the group you're in, take time to understand and then become the solution. Yes it can be disorientating in a group where there is no hierarchy, and practical goals far exceed ideology in terms of priority. You can choose what you want to support, and you don't have to agree with everything. Find your niche and bloom baby. We need you.
Photo courtesty of Sascha Poth