Author: Piwan Van Der Walt.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela
The team in their groupelephant.com T-shirts
Most of us, at some point in our lives, decided that we want to be someone, be successful and live the life we dream of. So we take life by the horns, go to the office, work hard, make a decent living and then look into the mirror and tell ourselves: “You’ve actually made it, you’re finally free!”
But are we really free? That was the question on my mind when planning for our Mandela Day initiative. Although there are many needs all around us, finding the right place to make the right kind of difference can be a challenge. Knowing more or less what I was looking for I realised that there is no better place to start than my local church. Speaking to some friends there I was quickly brought into contact with Marlie van Vuuren. Marlie is one of the contact persons at NEA Foundation. I got this excerpt from their website: “NEA is a Swahili word for ‘purpose, to prepare the way, to set in motion, to be a starting block’. We want to be able to move and be in places where the need as well as the potential for change is really big. We want to get involved with the people in the community to start projects required in their specific community and then equip them to take responsibility for their own projects and lives. Our aim as a non-profit organisation is to prove to them they don’t have to depend on us to do everything, our role is to support them in their dream and purpose, and to encourage them to be what they were meant to be!” This fascinated me and I definitely wanted to find out more.
The front of the old leper hospital main building that houses the crèche
After conveying the skills we could offer as a team, Marlie soon found a place in need of some reparation work – Thando Westford Community Crèche. The first thing that struck me was the location of the crèche. It was situated at the old leper hospital. Right then I knew we found the right place for our initiative and that this is where we will be able to make a difference. After following the directions and a quick look on Google Maps, I found the place to be in Pretoria West, just north of Atteridgeville. It was clear what needed to be done, two of the classrooms’ walls were in bad shape and required some patching and painting.
Steady hands on the cutting work
After another site visit or 2 we realised that the job we had in mind was still way bigger than a team of IT consultants could handle in one day, even after we decided to tackle only one room and rather do one properly than rushing through two. Fortunately one of our team members have parents in the renovating industry, who, after hearing our predicament, volunteered to do a day’s preparation work for us. A big shout out to SB Home Renovations for making our job so much easier!
Friday finally arrived and after a couple of pin drops and a handful, or maybe two, of calls everyone arrived at the destination. The day skipped 2nd, 3rd and 4th gear and went straight into 5th. Everyone had at least one job to do and the room quickly transformed into a ‘war’ room with paint brushes, drills, a staple gun, drop sheets and of course paint.
The ‘war’ room
After taking down all the attachments from the wall we couldn’t wait to test out our secret weapon: wallpaper. With this weapon of choice dark paint on the wall, small cracks and all other enemies of smooth walls didn’t stand a chance! Well, so we thought until sheet one went onto the wall. The pretty flower and flopping butterfly behind it came ever so gently, yet prominent to the front and could clearly be seen through the wallpaper. Two weeks of planning and excitement suddenly didn’t mean anything and after a moment of panic, we rushed back to the drawing board. Only one course of action was clear, to paint a layer or two. Some experimentation then confirmed we needed two layers of white paint before we could paste the wallpaper. For those who don’t realise the complications here, it’s the paint. Paint needs to dry before you can add a second layer, which then needs to dry again before we could throw on the wallpaper sheets. Those still oblivious to the real threat, it is time. For this to work we should include an estimate of between six and eight hours of unplanned drying time in our schedule and it was already 10 a.m. Fortunately with the assistance of a borrowed fan the paint miraculously dried in no time and we could proceed with the wallpaper.
Stunning birthday calendar
The rest of the day was spent gluing and applying the wallpaper, rounding off the other paint work and finishing the birthday calendar which looked stunning! There were also 2 kiddies bicycles donated by a group called BOMB Centurion, who distributes bicycles to under privileged children. The BOMB members are also part of the ERP group that distribute bicycles as part of the #Bikes4ERP program. These were handed over in a small ceremony which left the children ecstatic. The last item to complete was the skirting which, with much excitement from the team, was nailed to the wall with a rather senior nail gun. By 4 p.m. we were done and dusted and it was time to go home after a very eventful day.
Time to clean up, pack up and get in the pick-up
Looking back at the day, thinking about the happy faces, from teachers, children and parents alike and spending time with our team in a rather unfamiliar environment, making a tiny difference in the world around us, I still don’t know whether we are free, but I do know that for that one day we definitely were.