Off the beaten track, winding narrow roads leading into some of the poorest communities in the western Cape. The rural areas of Montagu and Ashton. Unchartered areas as here there are no tourist gimmicks or shops pulling people in. Only the poor reside here not to be heard or seen by the fortunate few that has more on the other side of town.
Hidden away in the heart of the colored primarily black community in Zolani, Ashton exists an old-age home providing ‘care’ for the elderly. Our first stop as these elderly lies close to the heart of RAM founder Carol Bruton. As we enter the building we encounter many toothless smiles and exclamations of joy upon seeing Carol knowing very well that this amazing lady never visits emptyhanded. An almost brand-new walker for one lucky resident, and some small treats were handed out and a packet of biscuits for some others. Such simple treats but one the residents can ill afford. Carol stops to greet every resident and knows them all by name. She delivers milk and polonie to the kitchen making sure they get an extra treat. I hang in the background taking photos but eventually pulled in by the old people. They are convinced that our similar light hair-color means that I am Carol’s daughter. I don’t see the need to correct them. In a bit we’ll be gone and it won’t matter.
We stop off at the local SPCA once again dropping some peanut butter for the dogs and milk for the staff. I stop for a moment to cuddle the cat and nearly get left behind.
From the dusty streets of Ashton we proceed to Montagu where the next three days are an absolute whirlwind of activities. I am about 20 years younger than Carol and Stephen and I barely held my own, I can only stand in awe at how deftly Carol arranges, delegates and completes tasks getting people to help out, support, donate and more. Steven is quietly in the background, the one that fetches, carries, packs the trailer unpacks it again and again with not a word of complaint, always making sure what is needed for every stop is there.
Upon entering Montagu we pay a quick visit at the Montagu Tourism Association and Carol surprised them with a nifty new coffee machine. Smiles all around! They confirm our accommodation graciously supplied by the owners of the beautiful John Montagu Guesthouse and we leave to get settled before the hard work begins. Or so I thought as Carol had other ideas and enroute to the guesthouse I am informed that we are delivering some much needed sugar and flour to Spasina who runs a church and soup kitchen from her humble and modest little house.
On Tuesday we are up early to visit the Talana farm school, so remote there is no cellphone reception. I noticed yes!! The little ones smile shyly; not familiar with my face but gives a giggle when auntie Carol approaches them, happy to see her. Brand spanking new school shoes sponsored by Toughees for most of the children whom has none or whose school shoes are literally falling apart. Walking to and from school for kilometres every day, not knowing the luxury of being dropped in a fancy car, catching a bus or even a taxi. Often barefoot and not dressed properly for our bitterly cold winters. The sadness wants to overwhelm me. Coca-Cola is served with a packet of nick-nacks and a plastic glass each to use at the school (nick-nacks & glasses donated by Imagine Cruising SA) and the smiles emerges one by one. Carol also ensures that some of the most needy ones goes home to their families with a brand-new still in the wrapping blanket.
Wednesday Carol has us up and about and running around like crazy prepping for not only one BUT THREE big Mandela Day Celebration Functions.
We started off at the Sakhikamva ECD center where Dulcie and her staff have already made a huge fire to accommodate the biggest cooking pots belonging to RAM you have ever encountered. I’m sure I could fit one of my teenagers in it if I tried hard enough. The previous day we dropped off kilograms of meat, veggies, beans, samp and more for Dulcie and her team to cook a potjie for the needy people of the area. Food was being prepped, gazebos being erected, tables set up and by the time we left the food was underway and they continued setting up for our imminent return later that morning.
Our next stop, the beautifully maintained Ashbury primary school where we are warmly greeted by their amazing principle. Where-ever we go I can see that they value Carol and Steven and the good work they do, it warms my heart and I’m proud to be there with them. The kids are quickly lined up and shoes distributed amongst happy smiles when old broken shoes or non-school shoes are taken off and the new shoes proudly on their feet. To my astonishment we did not only hand out school shoes here, I remember Carol telling me something about their 1100 toiletries project but it must have slipped my mind, until I walked into Ashbury’s teacher lounge and saw hundreds of units of soap, toothpaste, sanitary pads for girls and more covering one humongous table! I wish I could describe in words the face of the teachers and principal upon seeing this. I dare say the tears were not far off. The giving did not stop there as Carol still had a big bag of toys for the special needs children and we set off to hand it over. The joy of those kids seeing their beloved auntie Carol was so special, they tipped out the toys and immediately started playing. Such a small act but such a big blessing for these kids.
Returning to the ECD center there was now a huge group of people waiting for the speeches to begin and for the food to be distributed. Whilst we were gone Johnny from Coca- C0la Peninsula Beverages and his team have set up some more tables for serving Coca-Cola with the food. A plate of food and a paper-cup filled with coke might not sound like much to the likes of you and I but trust me if I tell you, this meal was probably the first hot meal that many of these people have seen in a while. Poverty lies dank in these narrow sandy roads where the red dust covers everything when there is the slightest of breezes. Houses smaller than my kitchen and barely bigger than my bedroom oftentimes housing more than one family. I stand ashamed at my spoils of two bathrooms and running water, a toilet that can flush, a bath that I can fill. My luxury items taken for granted; a washing machine and tumble drier, a seemingly simple item like a microwave not to mention much needed items like warm blankets, a bed to sleep on, clothes to wear, shoes, toilet-paper in my bathroom, basic items that people do without.
I’ve entered a couple of these homes and stood humbled at the simplicity of their lives. the effort made to create a relatively comfortable, clean and here and there an attempt at home-decorating showing pride in the little that they own. Not complaining, in utter silence I took it in. Even now as I sit here writing this I know these images are forever burnt into my memories, to be taken out and dusted off whenever life gets ‘tough’ I know these images will remind me that I am one of the lucky ones to have witnessed this so as to realise how much I have, not only me but by extension my family and friends and many others.
Our last stop on Wednesday was the grand finale….Carol having heard of a couple whose house was burnt down through an act of spite not only causing them to lose the little they owned but also losing a family member in the fire whilst witnessing the horrid scene. Carol did what Carol does best. She rallied the troops and started looking for funding to replace their wendy-house wanting to uplift this broken family and heal some of their hurt. She prayed, she cajoled, she asked on FB and by the time we traveled to Montagu this amazing woman has managed to not only provide a new home for this family of three but in the process many extras, an own bathroom and sink in the little house, two brand new restonic 3/4 beds, a chest of drawers, a vanity with a mirror and even a spanking new fridge together with many bags of clothing, bedding and more for them to start anew. But…here lies the most wonderful part. Carol did not only think of this family, she arranged a whole neighborhood party with Coca-Cola and boerewors rolls being handed out and some music for them to make merry. Celebrating the family’s new home Carol had us sharing out blankets to every family in the street around their house together with some fresh Oakland Dairy milk sachets, yogurt and cold meats.
Thursday saw us veering off the main roads once again traveling through the Koo valley towards Touwsrivier where we visited the Touwsrivier Primary School once again bearing gifts of socks, gloves, blankets, more school shoes and of-course some Coca-Cola for the children and teachers alike. Serving icy cold drinks to 750 children on an equally icy cold winters morning I can honestly say my hands have never been so cold! We left Touwsrivier Primary in high spirits but absolutely exhausted as Grumpy (Carol’s husband Steven) turned the van in the direction of Cape Town on our way home. Exhilarated but glad the trip was coming to an end.
As I write this I get goosebumps. I can still see the happy faces, the festive atmospheres everywhere we stopped off to deliver some much needed goodies, at the handing over of the new house the happiness for the family who now had a new roof over their heads, everyone included in the celebrations of the good fortune of their neighbors. In communities like this when someone rejoices everyone rejoices and when someone has lost all has lost the poverty is such. I returned to the guesthouse feeling guilty every night knowing that a warm plate of food, a glass of wine, a hot shower and a warm bed awaits me at the beautiful historic John Montagu guest house whose kind owners so graciously accommodated us for the week.
Such was my experience this past week joining Carol and hubby Steven on their journey to spread some joy and love for the Mandela Day cause. Not that they planned to only spend 67 minutes doing so. 67 minutes became 4 days spent away from home planned months in advance. Four days of traveling from one needy group to the other serving them with love and integrity.
I wrote this account on the basis of my four days spent with them and apologise if I have left anything out or offended anyone in any way. In many aspects this was an emotionally and physically draining trip experiencing the hardships of those who have so much less than us and whom are oftentimes forgotten and left behind in the red tape of government and politics and our high unemployment numbers. Alternating between feeling good for the joy we brought and feeling guilty for not being able to do more and for being so fortunate to have so much more.
I am proud that I was able to accompany RAM Rescue Among Many in my personal capacity and as their bona-fide amateur photographer trying my utmost best to capture the behind the scenes and the emotions of this trip. I am also grateful that I can try and give them more exposure by sharing on social media and creating more awareness of the amazing work they do. Carol says RAM is very small but she’s wrong. Their heart and love for serving their community makes RAM big and it encourages others to get involved. Thank you for all you do. I salute you and I wish I could post each one of the 1000 photos of the trip.
Some of the supporters, sponsors and collaborators of the items that RAM distributed
Transporting goods:- MSJ Logistics, Signage Installation & Services & Trips n tracks
Coca-Cola Peninsula Beverages for helping to serve Coca-Cola to the community
Presles for the blankets the donated
Old Mutual – blankets
Full House Furniture Montague branch for the two beds and fridge they donated
Oakland Dairies for the milk and yoghurt
Montagu Tourism Association for arranging our accommodation
John Montagu Guesthouse for the stunning accommodation supplied
There are many more whose identities I’m not privy to but I thank you all for your support of such a worthy charity.