Online Samaritans

2009-03-12 00:00

Fairy godmothers come in all shapes and sizes. Philip Scott, general manager of an expat magazine for South Africans in Australia, may not look like his Walt Disney counterparts, but he recently plucked a struggling immigrant from the brink of disaster.

It was the evening of November 11 last year and Scott was working late in Sabona’s Queensland office when he received the phone call. It was from a distressed KwaZulu-Natal man in Perth, Western Australia (originally from Westville in KZN, an ex-pupil of Westville Boys’ High), who was considering suicide.

Listening to Mark Elsing’s tale of woe, Scott recognised the all-too familiar problems migrants face in a strange country. Elsing (part of Australia’s huge South African-Zimbabwean community) was saying that he had work and visa worries and his money was running out. Scott offered to help. That same evening on his magazine’s website the appeal went out.

Scott appealed directly to anyone who could either “sponsor him in a project management position, assist with finding him sponsorship asap, donate a small amount of money or [offer] any legal assistance.” With word now out that someone was in trouble, e-mails and phone calls started coming in. He wasn’t the only person in the world behind in paying rent but this didn’t stop readers responding.

But Elsing’s plight worsened. Next day came the news that “due to economic pressures”, the company he’d been working for could not keep his sponsorship going. “We still need employment for him urgently,” was Scott’s rallying cry for a business to take him on. He had 48 hours to turn a life around. Elsing’s CV was put forward: he’d take any work, anywhere.

The news that Elsing, who’d worked in management in sign-writing and hospitality, was dying to hear came on the afternoon of November 14 in an e-mail from Letitia de Lima at Visas R Us in Queensland, offering him a job as a project manager.

Elsing was flabbergasted. “We as a family could not have got this far without all these efforts and encouragement,” he wrote to Scott, who thanked not only the company but another knight in shining armour, Graham Baird, who stepped forward and offered to take Mark on “should everything fall through.”

Into the bargain Sabona magazine managed to raise almost $4 000 [R26 000] — which included five weeks’ rent ($1 000) for an understanding landlord, the same in medical bills after a recent car crash, and $500 towards living expenses.

As well as this extraordinary result, there is another touching aspect to it. “The appeal website will stay live,” says Scott, “and we will use this to raise awareness and continue raising funds so we can assist any other people in similar situations — we need to look after our community.”

• Readers can find the magazine at where hard copies can be ordered and posted to KZN.

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