Durban family’s angel of mercy

2014-01-21 00:00

A DURBAN family thought their new life in the UK had literally gone up in smoke in November.

Kim Greyling had to flee with her young son and her newborn baby when a faulty fuse box triggered a major fire at their rented London home, which destroyed virtually all their possessions. Then, the Yellowwood Park family discovered they would not be covered by insurance — leaving them without a home or family support.

But then a 28-year-old fellow Durbanite whom they vaguely knew stepped in and “did a Hayley”.

Now, two months later — and at no cost to them — the Greylings have found themselves in a new apartment fully stocked with furniture and appliances, armed with shopping vouchers, “and our kids now have more clothes than before the fire”.

A co-ordinator for South African charities in London, Hayley Short — a St Mary’s, Kloof, old girl — has not only rallied other expats in London to replace the Greylings’ possessions, but turned her own bathroom into a salvage centre to scrub recovered clothes and toys of soot.

Justin Greyling, an accountant at a London bank, said, “Hayley is just incredible — its hard to express the appreciation we have”.

Short said she had taken four car-loads of the Greyling’s burned belongings, which Justin thought were beyond repair, to her house, “Justin felt somewhat awkward with all the offers of assistance — us Saffas are proud people — but I told him to just let the ‘Saffa fairies’ save their belongings.

“A bunch of us moms were on WhatsAapp with each other, drinking wine at our own houses and soaking and washing load after load.

“One of them, Tannyth Lee Bush from Kloof, even climbed into the bath to stomp on the clothes to help loosen the smoke.”

Remarkably, this is the second time Short — purely on her own initiative — has rescued a South African family after a devastating fire in London. During the London riots of 2011, a mob of looters burned down a store co-owned by South African Alicia Mundell in Battersea. Working full time on the project for seven days, Short launched a “Battersea Bounce Back” campaign, which used fancy dress parties and a comedy night to fund the resurrection of Mundell’s business — which, in turn, sponsors a street children’s charity in Asia.

Nominated for the South African Achievers Awards last year — in the category of “community champion” — Short is emerging as a one-woman force for South African causes, using energy as her primary resource. When she heard the KwaMama Care Centre in Shakas Head and the Durban North Baby House needed baby clothes, she came bearing clothes outgrown by her own baby, Caela, on a recent flight back to Durban.

Short then broadcast the idea on social media, which — according to St Mary’s school in Kloof — “inspired friends in the UK to donate clothing as well”.

On a larger scale, she raised funds for FoodBank South Africa and various underprivileged schools.

And when she did get hold of some cash herself — winning R20 000 in a radio contest — she donated the lot to rhino conservation.

This is the first time the Greyling family are speaking out after the “raw emotions” of the disaster.

Justin Greyling (36) said, “Kim was talking on Skype with her mom in Durban when she smelled smoke, which was coming from beneath the stairwell. It happened on Guy Fawkes Day, of course.

“I remember getting the call at work and Kim screaming and me freaking out. When you don’t have family around, a crisis like this gets multiplied — but then we discovered we have a kind of family here we didn’t know about.”

According to a report by the New Malden fire station, 70% of the downstairs had been damaged by fire or smoke, while 100% of the upstairs possessions were damaged.

“When I visited Hayley at her place I was stunned — her home was like a huge sorting centre for things for my family!” said Justin.

“We were completely amazed at how the South African community rallied. And its not like people were giving away cast-offs or junk — we were given new beds and clothes.”

Short said some possessions could not be replaced. “Kim was distraught as her father had passed away about 18 months prior, and some of what she had from him was lost in the fire. It was a difficult time for them.”

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