The Secret Love Project is an artwork about love and for the past seven years the Cape Town-based non-profit organisation (NPO) has been doing just that: spreading love and offering people living on the streets a lifeline out of poverty.
Last month, the NPO’s efforts were recognised with the Community Business Empowerment Award as part of the annual Mayoral Community Service Awards.
The awards are intended to honour the extent of community service work of individuals, groups or organisations across the 24 sub councils in the city.
This year’s award ceremony was scheduled for Tuesday 29 June, but was cancelled due to level four lockdown.
Recipients had to collect their awards and the NPO was recognised for its efforts to provide support and a service that contributes to the growth and development of community entrepreneurship.
Michael Elion, founder of the NPO, says it all began in 2014 as an artwork project for World Design Capital in Cape Town.
Elion says: “Our aim is to spread love in the world using the heart shape. It was conceived as a city-wide artwork that would act as a social engineering experiment whereby the heart shape would be used to engineer positive consciousness in the city of Cape Town.”
He explains heart-shaped cards are displayed on poles all over Cape Town. He later decided to continue the project’s positive spirit by providing heart-shaped stickers to people living on the streets of Cape Town, free of charge.
“We supply them with the stickers to sell and they keep all of the profit to support themselves and their families. In this way, the stickers can reach more people. This also helps them to have a positive influence on people in society because they are doing something around the concept of love.”
He explains that they now have vendors in the City Bowl, Fish Hoek, Claremont and Simon’s Town.
He says the project helps the sellers to be less marginalised and welcomed by society.
“Each month, we give about 10 000 free heart sticker packs to our registered sellers who sell them to motorists at R20 each. This puts R200 000 a month or R2,4 million a year into the hands of the neediest in our community. The sellers can afford food and shelter, and selling heart stickers spreads a message of love in our community.”
Elion says they have about 500 registered sellers of which 250 are regulars. He says the award is one of many milestones achieved by the NPO.
“It is really great that we have been recognised for the impact that we are making. Our NPO is making a giant impact in the homeless communities, not only with restoring pride and dignity to our sellers to help get them back on their feet, but also having a massive impact on crime reduction.”
John Marniweck has been living on the streets for more than four years. He says a friend first told him about the project. He has been selling stickers at the robots in the City Bowl for the past four months.
“It helps me make some money which I can give to my family to support my two children. I am glad to at least make some honest money.”
Tyrone Williams has been a vendor for the project for the past year. He explains that on a good day, he makes up to R300; something he is grateful for.
“Some days are quiet, then you don’t make a lot of sales. But on good days, then the money is not too bad. I live on the streets so with that money I can buy myself something to eat.”
Elion says the NPO is also currently running their annual Rain Suit campaign, which aims to raise funds toward purchasing rain suits for their vendors.
“We believe that our vendors should also experience warmth and protection during the rainy and harsh Cape Town winter”.