Ahead of International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March, The Association for the Aged (Tafta), is using the platform of its 60th anniversary year to celebrate its relationship with women who have made a real difference in their communities.
Aligned to the International Women’s Day theme of #PressforProgress, Tafta has played an instrumental role in mentoring the women of the Illungelo Labadala village in Amaoti, Inanda to develop a community outreach initiative aimed at aiding and protecting the vulnerable of that community; its elders and children.
“As an association with a history of strong female leadership, we see the importance of ensuring that we use opportunities like the Amaoti Village to help strong and motivated women press for progress in their communities. Through our many years of mentoring this project since 2003, there have predominantly been women at its helm; making a real difference, and this is our opportunity to give them the recognition they deserve,” said Shamam of the project that will soon be handed back to the Amaoti community to run.
Mrs Elizabeth Mbongwe
Professionally qualified nurse and co-founder of the Ilungelo Labadala project, Mrs Elizabeth Mbongwe approached Tafta together with her friend and colleague Mrs Victoria Mtshali in 1999 to bring attention to the plight of the elders in the Amaoti village. According to how Mbongwe recalls the events at the time, Mtshali, who is now deceased, was given access to a piece of land in the area by a farmer Brooks and wanted to use the land to build a safe house for abused elders and children.
The friends approached The British embassy for funding who granted them a loan to build the facility, but only under the coaching and mentorship of a larger, established organisation that would need to manage the operations and management of funds for the project.
“Victoria was pensioned earlier than I was but she told me that when I retired, I had to come join her because she was being really affected by how younger generations, especially the grandchildren, were abusing the old gogos for their pension monies. We met with the Board of management at Tafta then CEO Margie Smith, and she became actively involved in coming into the area to begin helping the pensioners.”
Tafta, after concluding a due diligence process, began working with Mbongwe and Mtshali to build a home for the elderly and destitute children. Mbongwe explains: “It was an extremely rewarding process. We had to meet with the community, draw up plans for what the project would look like and we decided that we would create a kitchen to feed, a frail care facility and another cottage to house destitute children who were either orphaned or abused. It was an exciting time and we were so grateful to Tafta when we saw the dream beginning to materialise. We stayed on and watched it flourish and then we handed over to the young ones to be mentored by Tafta.”
In recent years however, Mbongwe, who herself resides in Umlazi, was called back to the community to assist with the handover of management from Tafta to the elected board members of the newly registered not for profit organisation Illungelo Labadala. “I will guide them only for a while; I am old now and it is time for me to rest,” says the 80-year old stalwart who still drives to and from her home to attend committee meetings at Amaoti.
Mrs Theodora Makhanya
Unassuming Makhanya (63) has spent 24 years of her life dedicated to the cause of helping the aged in her community. As far back as she can recall, the mother of three has spent her time volunteering to assist the frail elders in her community by caring for their daily needs.
Selfless Makhanya, who has only occasionally been paid for her work, has always been driven by the idea that if she could make a difference to the life of just one abused grandmother, she would consider her lifetime’s work fulfilled.
Makhanya was given that opportunity through Tafta to work on the Illungelo Labadala project where she began work as a carer and manager of the project’s kitchen facility. She recalls the case she managed that enabled her to make the difference she sought to make. “There were two gogos I knew who were staying together in the community. The one had an alcoholism problem and was severely abusing the second one for her money. I was able to bring the abused gogo to the Tafta care facility and it felt so good to be able to assist in that way.”
Makhanya remains an active member of the Illungelo project, cooking meals for the children and elders daily, for which she is extremely grateful to Tafta. “Being a part of the project has given us the structure to formally assist so many people in this community. I will continue assisting for as long as I can,” says the gentle Makhanya.
Mrs Bukisani Phakati
Qualified educator Bukisani Phakati started at Tafta in 2000 as a Social Auxilliary worker, or assistant social worker, working primarily on the Illungelo Labadala project. “I came to Tafta because I was always passionate about care of the elderly and although my qualification was in teaching, I was drawn to this position from the start.”
After Tafta identified a need to develop a school after care programme to care for children home alone without meals or care, Phakati was appointed and made responsible for this programme. She started by recruiting children, via the nearby primary school: “There were many instances of child abuse too we became aware of as we investigated and Tafta played a huge role in bringing those issues under the spotlight in that community.”
Phakati worked daily, caring for 36 children in her care, helping to serve them a meal after school and then assisting them with homework and other activities. The tireless worker recalled clocking in at Tafta offices daily, then making the drive to Inanda to take care of her charges until around 4pm when she could send them back home to their parents. “It was exhausting, but I remember it being the most fulfilling period of my life. We even put together holiday programmes twice a year and got sponsorships to take the children on trips to the city and other places they had never been to before. We also assisted with food parcels for those grannies that were housebound and I also ran a Fellowship meeting that ran daily.”
Phakati is proud to know these programmes still run since her absence in 2012 when she decided to return to her teaching career. “I’m happy to know I made this difference and I do hope the same level of care will remain in the village when the community takes over”.