New leaf in gardening

2016-02-23 06:00
 Magadien Wentzel, Zamuxolo Masabalala, Jesse Laitinen, Anthony van Aarde and Andre Solomons at the Khulisa garden, one of the projects which provides work for ex-offenders and street people.  PHOTO: nicole mccain

Magadien Wentzel, Zamuxolo Masabalala, Jesse Laitinen, Anthony van Aarde and Andre Solomons at the Khulisa garden, one of the projects which provides work for ex-offenders and street people. PHOTO: nicole mccain

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In the soil of a vegetable garden, the heat of a bakery and the dust of a street gutter, ex-offenders are being given a second chance.

Khulisa is an organisation that offers alternatives to sentencing for criminals found guilty of non-serious crimes.

The programme works on the principle that it is not just the person who committed the crime who needs help, but that the “system around that person is just as broken”, explains programme coordinator Jesse Laitinen.

Often systemic problems – such as unemployment, abuse or dysfunctional families – are behind crimes, Laitinen says. If these issues are not changed the offender will continue to commit crimes.

“There are around 150 street people arrested each month at the community court in Cape Town, mostly for bylaw violations or petty crimes,” she says.

Many of these arrests are an attempt to discourage people from living on the street, Laitinen believes, but there is no alternative for the offenders.

Jobs for consThis is where Khulisa steps in – by attempting to provide employment which gives offenders the option to improve their livers.

Khulisa recently completed a pilot project which saw it using stipends for 40 workers as part of the City’s expanded public work programme. These were given to participants selected from the courts with a history of substance abuse. The participants did street cleaning shift work and attended personal development sessions in the mornings.

After two months, their attendance had increased from 40% to 78%. And 77% of the participants had moved off the streets of their own accord, Laitinen says.

Some of these participants also helped in setting up a vegetable garden.

Facilitator Magadien Wentzel came on board as the project manager for the garden, with help from the Oranjezicht City Farm.

“We made planter boxes and just started experimenting. We now have basil, chilli, peppers, brinjals and tomatoes growing,” he says.

The garden has been taken on with enthusiasm by some of the programme’s participants, Wentzel says, and has given them a newfound purpose.

“It’s like fathering a child. You start loving it and caring for it and it gives you a reason to wake up in the morning,” he says.

Khulisa has now been given another 100 stipends, Laitinen says, and is in the process of creating jobs for these, while partnering with industry experts.

A recycling centre is being established and the programme has received a donation of soap-making equipment. It has also converted a kitchen at the Service Dining Rooms in Zonnebloem into a bakery, baking bread to sell at the train station and the Neighbourgoods Market in Woodstock.

Creating employment opportunities is vital to help former convicts rebuild their lives, Wentzel says.

“Many come from jail and they think they’ve changed their lives and expect to be welcomed back into society. But they aren’t. [Khulisa] offers them dignity.”

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