The week before lockdown was announced, when there were rumours and nothing concrete, I was dreaming about my lockdown period. I would get back into sourdough bread making. Teach my kids to sew, bake and do various art projects with them I remember from childhood and loved. – or perhaps we would spent the time in the Eastern Cape and help my mom pack up her house. My plan was to take a bit of a breather in life, and get back to basics after a very hectic first term. I could do most of my NPO supporting remotely – since we don’t deal with the end beneficiary directly there was no need for We are Durban to apply to be an essential service.
But then our President made his announcement, and described lockdown to the country and the real need was known. I had a choice stick to my plan or step up to the challenge. We are Durban is part of the eThekwini homeless task team, and is there representing our partnership with many NPO’s. This task team activated at 5am on the Tuesday morning after the announcement to create space for the homeless of Durban to observe lockdown. We are Durban is a small NPO. Many people do not believe me when I say this, but we only have two paid staff and two YES interns. We do not have big funders – but many small and individual donors. The path that seems obvious is stay behind the scenes and support. It’s safe, it’s familiar and it’s controllable.
We chose to engage in Durban’s need instead. It was an opportunity to bring about positive change through partnerships we have developed over years. We were given the mandate to partner with FBO’s, CBO’s and NGO’s to provide food for the homeless lockdown facilities in the CBD, thus ensuring food security. Well within our mandate to partner with organisations to ensure that the poor, widow and orphan are taken care of. We have had the opportunity in this to transform lives, give guys a chance of fighting the virus, identify other sickness and 660 people have come off whoonga or heroin in this time. Our organisation’s name has been in many newspaper articles, online pieces and TV programs. We have come in contact with new donors and new partners. These are opportunities that would not have happened if we had chosen the safe route. It has been hard work, it has been long hours, I have had to sacrifice my dreams of a family reset time, and many moments of “I am walking out” but We are Durban is now impacting more people and seeing real transformation in Durban because we said “yes”.
On the other hand, a friend of mine had the opportunity to run one of the shelters. She had indicated she would love to do it, but chose not to, as she was scared of COVID. The shelter was handed to another person to run. That person will probably continue to run the shelter for quite some time. The friend will continue with her normal work, still hoping for an opportunity to engage in that space.
My lesson here is real opportunities are rare, and easily missed. Many things can prevent you from taking an opportunity – fear, thinking too much of where things could lead, own comforts and the sacrifices needed to take them. You may not see where the opportunity is going to take you but you need to just jump at it and grab hold of it and keep going no matter how many times you want to give up. I look forward to seeing what the new normal is for We are Durban after this experience, but I can tell you, it will not be the same as before that Presidential announcement. We are different, better, more influential and so is Durban.