Every hand counts when the burden multiplies - GulfToday

Every hand counts when the burden multiplies

Ilka Stein, a consultant and facilitator, poses for a photo inside the Skhaftin food bus in Johannesburg, South Africa. Reuters

Ilka Stein, a consultant and facilitator, poses for a photo inside the Skhaftin food bus in Johannesburg, South Africa. Reuters

Without meaning to be unreasonably preachy, one would like to state, and in definite terms, that when there is a serious crisis all of us should jump in to deal with the impending problem. The person willing to help need not be a man worth millions because help is always a matter of feelings and not means. Some millionaires have been known for shutting their doors to beggars. Some ordinary humans have set their fraternity talking by sharing their modest possessions.  

One such person is Sidney Beukes, a resident of Johannesburg, South Africa.

When Beukes got his bus driver’s licence, he never imagined himself behind the wheel of a 40-year-old school bus that has been turned into a mobile grocery store serving low-income residents of Johannesburg. The bus is not an easy drive: there is no power steering and it chugs along. But Beukes said every time a customer climbs aboard to buy groceries they could not afford in the shops, he is reminded of why he would not want to drive anything else.

“We’re here for them, when people are stuck without food and it gets tough ... it makes me happy to see them happy,” said Beukes, 24, standing next to the gleaming white bus in the South African city’s working-class Bertrams area.

The Skhaftin bus - named after a local slang word meaning lunchbox - was born at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when activist Ilka Stein appealed on social media for social entrepreneurs to brainstorm ideas to help the community. Last year’s strict lockdown, which began in March, had a devastating impact on millions of South Africans. By April 2020, 3 million people had lost their jobs and one in five were going hungry, found a survey by universities. In the fourth quarter of last year, government statistics showed record unemployment of 32.5%, meaning 7.2 million people were out of work. “I knew I wanted to look at sustainable solutions around food,” said Stein, from her offices in Victoria Yards, a former laundry factory in inner city Johannesburg that now houses art studios, community vegetable gardens and a clinic.

The bus’s seats were removed to make way for cupboards and shelves to stack the fresh vegetables, beans, spices and cereals. By January this year, 90 days after Stein had bought the old bus, it was reborn as a mobile grocery store. Three days a week, the bus parks in different city neighbourhoods where the team tell customers what the project aims to achieve, encouraging shoppers to bring their own containers to reduce plastic waste.

In India, a man, like Beukes, sold his car to buy oxygen for COVID-19 patients.

This discussion shall remain incomplete without talking about the pantry in Philippines.

Called “community” or “village pantry,” it operates on a principle, espoused by a businesswoman Ana Patricia Non. The principle: “Give whatever you can, take only what you need.”

Non, 26, firmed up the concept by buying a bamboo cart and initially filled it with some grocery items and parked it in front of her shop in a “barangay” (village) in Quezon City, Manila. It turned out to be a fantastic social service concept.

The praiseworthy gesture, displayed by the South African, the Indian and the Filipina, goes on to prove that during any major crisis it is everybody’s responsibility to respond, and in a concrete way, and not wait endlessly for the authorities to intervene.

Granted, the ultimate answer to a problem as enormous as the pandemic lies with the government, but we can’t deny that every push matters when the wheels of life begin to creak.

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