Sowing new seeds

2018-09-25 06:00
Aubrey Engelbrecht and Razaan Lucas begin planting at the Rugley Road Park. PHOTO: nicole mccain

Aubrey Engelbrecht and Razaan Lucas begin planting at the Rugley Road Park. PHOTO: nicole mccain

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Gardening has been a thread that has been woven into Aubrey Engelbrecht’s life.

At first he helped his adopted parents in their garden in Ravensmead. Then he carried out his “handbou” tasks in the garden while incarcerated.

Now, gardening is the lifeline that keeps him away from gangsterism and the tool to help him leave a life on the streets.

Four months ago, Engelbrecht volunteered at the Streetscape project – a project run by Khulisa Social Solutions that establishes urban gardens that employ homeless people – and has been employed at the project’s latest site at Rugley Road Park.

“I was sleeping outside Bellville Court before I came to Sea Point. I realised my past was wrong and decided to find work to change my lifestyle,” Engelbrecht explains.

A friend of his pointed him in the direction of Streetscapes.

“In prison, I worked for free. Now I get paid and can get out of wrong things,” he adds.

Khulisa 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”, programme coordinator Jesse Laitinen previously told People’s Post (“New leaf in gardening”, 23 February 2016)

During Khulisa’s pilot project, street people and ex-offenders who took part in the programme and earned a stipend showed increased attendance after two months (from 40% to 78%), and after six months 77% of participants had moved off the streets of their own accord and 68% had addressed drug and alcohol problems.

The gardening project started in 2015 at a lot in Roeland Street, and a second garden was opened a year later on the property of Trafalgar High School.

Laitinen says Rugley Road Park was chosen for a new garden due to the support of the community, and because the unused land has a natural water source. She adds that the community will be able to walk in daily to buy fresh, organic vegetables, as well as compost, in a few months. She also encourages the community to bring food waste for composting.

The two gardens, at Roeland Street and Trafalgar High School, have helped over 150 people rebuild their lives since 2015, Laitinen estimates.

There are another 10 jobs being created at the Rugley Road Park garden, she adds.

One of these jobs belongs to Razaan Lucas. She has been with the programme since the first garden was started three years ago and has worked her way through the ranks to her current position of supervisor at the Rugley Road Park. She joined the programme while she and her two children were living on the street.

“The lifted me up to team leader and helped me get a wendyhouse. I was appointed supervisor last month. I’m happy I can teach other people,” she says.

The programme offers street people, and those like Engelbrecht, the opportunity to take back their dignity.

“I can take my life back in this situation. I can never go back. My life stands still there. I will never go back to prison,” he says.V For more information, email Jesse Laitinen at jesse@khulisa.org.za.

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