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It all started on a WhatsApp group.

During the first lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were under threat – with jobs lost and restrictions in place, people had no idea where their next meal would come from or how they would support their families.

So Love in a Bowl decided to step in.

Working with local powerhouse Mhinti Pato, key community leaders and the network of street leaders that communicate with individual houses, Love in a Bowl set up a WhatsApp group to help identify those most in need in Imizamo Yethu. Through this group, they were able to distribute weekly food parcels of home-grown, fresh, organic vegetables, creating a true lifeline for hundreds of people in the months that would follow.

When some of the urgency of the pandemic eased, the WhatsApp group was still active and one of the members asked a single question: ‘What more can we do?’

It didn’t take long to identify the next challenge: waste management in Imizamo Yethu.

‘Waste management is a huge issue,’ explains Portia Sbhozo. ‘The community has grown enormously since it was established in 1991 but there are no proper waste management systems in place. There are no bins and the contractors don’t do a good job. And the streets are a mess – there are broken bottles mixed with plastic and metal and wrappers, there’s food waste in between and the rats are everywhere. Dirty nappies block the drains, along with other human waste, and it’s not a healthy environment to live in – especially during a pandemic.’

The 12 members of the WhatsApp group – all women – decided to take action and a few days later, IY Community Cleanup was formed. The goal is simple: to clean the streets and create a better living environment for everyone.

‘Essentially, we started clean up and collection efforts three times a week,’ explains Portia, Chair of IY Community Cleanup. ‘Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday the volunteers operate on different streets, working with the community to collect waste, place it in bags and make the area clean. We then have an informal arrangement with a rubbish collector who collects the bags and disposes of them properly.’

One of the challenges IY Community Cleanup faced was a lack of PPE – the personal and protective equipment needed to clean the streets properly while also keeping themselves safe.

‘We put out a call for support within Hout Bay and the response was overwhelming,’ continues Portia. ‘Some people donated tools, bags and other equipment needed for cleaning up. Another person helped to set up a Facebook page and we even have an account at Jack Hammers that people can top up if they want to support our work. We also have t-shirts with our logo on them so we’re easily identifiable and we can start to build more awareness about the work we’re doing.’

Portia explains that raising awareness about the importance of waste management is essential to creating long-lasting change.

‘The truth is, it takes two to tango. The government needs to do its part by providing the systems and services, which they’re not, but the community also needs to do its part by managing waste on an individual level. Most people just aren’t aware and by working together we’re showing people that things can be different – that we can make a difference in the society around us. We want to be an example that inspires others to do even more.’

The impact the women are having is evident. While there is much work to be done, the area is slowly getting cleaner and the group is building momentum every day. While their cleanup work continues, they are even starting to investigate how to transform informal dump sites into community gardens, constantly making the area a more beautiful place to live.

‘We couldn’t have done any of this without the support from Love in a Bowl,’ comments Portia. ‘They have been sharing their ethics, their ideas and their energy from the very beginning and they have been a light to the whole community. The name says it all – when you do something with love, something straight from the heart, it will always prevail. And that’s exactly what we’re doing with the IY Ukuphila Community Cleanup.’

To support IY Ukuphila Community Cleanup, follow their activities on their Facebook Page, make a contribution to their account at Jack Hammers for cleaning materials, or contact Portia Sbhozo on 073-011-3412.