Charity appeals for Christmas food parcels

2011-12-21 00:00

KILOMETRES of green countryside populated with hundreds of little misshaped houses crawl up and over the mountain. They make up a primitively developed township called France that has sprung up in the past 30 years on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg.

Curious faces peer from the roadside as we drive through the dusty streets of this poverty-stricken community.

In the midst of this stands a pillar of prospective opportunity and support for hundreds of people, the Reach Out With Love Centre funded by Liberty Properties.

Here, between the cramped fences and low-budget infrastructure of schools and house shops, lies a story that could inspire a revolution, born from the compassion of one family.

Propelled by the efforts of John Bloem­ (31), managing director of Reach Out With love, and his mother Melanie du Plessis, the Reach Out with Love project has given the children and families of France new hope.

Bloem said his mother taught him from a young age to care for the poor, but initially the France initiative grew from him being involved in helping feed a few poor families.

“I started as a donkey delivering food parcels and toys all around,” he said laughingly.

Others might call this a job, but Bloem­ said that giving and reaching out to others is a “calling”.

“Giving a loaf of bread and seeing some of the people here cry makes you weak at the knees. It shows what we take for granted.”

He is clearly a passionate humanitarian involved in multiple charity projects that provide food parcels for individual families, Christmas parties in crèches and toys for young kids.

The centre, which was erected in April last year, boasts an established clinic with three doctors and nursing staff who see around 50 to 80 people a day.

There is a counselling room that will soon be operational where abused children will be attended to. There will also be a laundromat.

“Most children don’t have many clothes and have to walk around wearing dirty ones,” Bloem added. So children will drop off their dirty clothes off in the morning. While they are at school they’ll get washed and they can pick them up after school.

The caretaker manages a garden that supplies the kitchen with most of its vegetables.

About 14 to 20 children between the ages of six and 13, some orphans and others from child-headed households, congregate every morning from Monday to Friday for breakfast.

Supper is supplied to more than 40 children in the afternoon.

The centre has a group of pupils who go in every day to help the children with their mathematics, science and English homework and, while Bloem said that they do not monitor the pupils’ progress, he is certain their language skills have improved.

“The children picked up English surprisingly fast and the older children now understand when we speak to them and interpret for the younger ones.”

In addition to a new clinic and counselling room, Bloem said they want to develop a soccer field and are overseeing the introduction of a crafts programme that will teach people beading and sewing.

He said he is amazed at how people feel an ownership towards the centre.

When asked what the most rewarding part of his job is, Bloem immediately replies that it is seeing the children grow.

“In the first three weeks the kids were very withdrawn and wouldn’t answer questions. They were very closed off.” But, he said, with time their attitudes to themselves and others­ have changed.

“We can’t help everyone, and it’s sad to leave people out when we don’t have enough,” he said.

He said there are a lot of child-headed homes where older children look after their younger siblings, and they are doing the best they can to lend a helping hand.

“It’s about hope,” Bloem declared.

The reality is both intensely sobering, but undeniably beautiful. The efforts of a few dedicated individuals have opened a gateway into a positive future for France and its young generation.


• The charity has appealed to the community to become a part of this empowering project and help by providing toys, clothes and most importantly food parcels this Christmas. To help, contact Melanie du Plessis at 072 764 7208 or John Bloem at 079 632 7616.


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