What if you were an unpaid garbage collector, living under a bridge, who once loved to knit?
You once held down a respectable job in the commercial world. Then, as happens all too frequently in our world today, you’re retrenched – now 12 years ago. Since then, life has got harder and harder and today you live in the open, under a bridge.
For the last four years, you and three other women have lived peaceably under this bridge.
You survive by recycling paper, plastic, metal and cardboard for which you are paid a meagre amount.
You start in the early hours of each day and when your work is done, you come back to your ‘home’ under the bridge and boil water to make tea and warm up.
Along with your companions, you sort the recycled material and then take it the recycling depot where you are paid by the kilo. Waste recyclers’ trollies are piled high, are heavy and cumbersome to push for the long kilometres to the nearest depot.
The four of you sleep close together on a mattress to keep warm. Like sisters you share your worries. You share the food from whatever you can find in rubbish bins.
One night, even this harmless, but harsh existence is simply exterminated. Because someone living in comparative luxury in a neighbouring townhouse, decides your shack settlement is spoiling their view.
Meet Lizzie who once love to knit
Lizzie lived under this bridge in South Africa, in Gauteng. Lizzie once loved to knit and crochet, but that is now just a dream as she has no wool or needles.
Lizzie described how the neighbour came together with the police.
They came at night, pulled out a gun, threw petrol on our shacks and burnt them. They didn’t let us take our documents out, we lost our IDs and papers.
Imagine the additional trauma caused by this in a world when you can’t simply replace such precious documents. Or what it means to start again when you’re already homeless, cold and vilified.
People who care
Fortunately there are many caring people, among them the woman who wrote the original story and shared it on Facebook, and Erin Van Der Vvyer who found it and shared it with her mother, Ronda Lowrie, founder of Knit-a-square South Africa (KAS), who shared it with me at CreateCare Global in Australia. And now we are sharing it with you.
Already some wonderful stuff has happened.
Ronda acted within a few hours and arranged to meet Lizzie at the shopping centre close to their new camp under a freeway bridge. She said it was freezing.
Firstly, she suggested Lizzie volunteer for KAS on a Thursday, which would be a ‘good food day’ for her, with the promise of a modest payment.
The other exciting possibility is that KAS could provide easier access to paper, cardboard and plastic materials from all the postal waste, helping Lizzie and her friends in their efforts to earn from recycling. Everyone wins!
And when Ronda offered to provide Lizzie with wool, needles and a crochet hook, she burst into tears!
Like so many in Africa, despite being incredibly poor, Lizzie has a cell phone which is how Ronda will be able to maintain contact with her.
Lizzie explained she was able to charge it because the owner of the local Caltex petrol station in Witkoppen is very kind and lets them use the water and bathroom and charge their phones there.
How encouraging to hear of such kindness in the face of such suffering.
While Ronda was with Lizzie, another woman called and organised to donate money via ‘ewallet’. Even more exciting someone else has offered to buy them a two roomed tin shack which they can erect in one of the informal settlements areas.
What can we do?
Sending wool and needles so that Lizzie and her sisters can knit not only for herself and the other homeless people but to make squares for the children would be a wonderful start.
So that it is manageable for Ronda, if you want to help, please send small parcels of wool and yarn – perhaps no more than four balls at a time. We would not want these parcels to attract duty. To distinguish them from normal KAS packages, could you mark them ‘Gift only, No Commercial Value’. FOR LIZZIE.
If possible mark the parcel with a bright pink stripe or band so that they can be easily recognized and set aside as part of this special project.
The postal address is:
Knit-A-Square, Private Bag X900, Bryanston 2021, South Africa
For full postal instructions please postal instructions here.
It is very important to fill your postal forms in correctly to avoid paying duty in South Africa.
What if this was the start of an Impact Enterprise for Lizzie and her friends?
Could this be an opportunity to support people like Lizzie by paying for any squares or other items they may make? Supporting homeless people who, in turn, are supporting local charities, like KAS SA, could attract sponsorship or funding.
Imagine Lizzie in years to come, running a band of knitters, knitting to earn money, but also squares with her ‘under the bridge’ sisters to warm the many millions of orphaned and abandoned children in South Africa.
If Lizzie and her sisters think this is a good idea, let’s see what we can do to help them make that happen.