All Alexandra resident Ponani Shikweni, 32, wanted to do was to try to find a way to keep the community's youth busy and fed during the national Covid-19 lockdown.
So far, the mother of three has already helped to make and distribute more than 20 000 cloth masks for free in the Johannesburg township to fight Covid-19. She plans to distribute a couple of thousand more in the weeks ahead – particularly to an at-risk local orphanage.
"I was looking at my neighbours, looking at all the unemployed youth in the street, and thought what could I do to help them during this lockdown?" Shikweni told News24.
From her backyard, Shikweni has hired 35 people, 20 of who are under the age of 25, to help her make the cloth masks.
Shikweni said she makes no profit from the masks, and uses her own money to help pay the wages.
"During the lockdown, the youth had nothing to do and they were doing crime, they were using nyaope," Shikweni said.
Nyaope is a highly addictive South African street drug, often consisting of heroin and dagga.
"Now they are working from 07:00 to 16:30 and they go home, and shower and sleep. There's no more time for them to do crime."
She said many of her employees also live in homes where there is no income. "Now at least they have something to eat."
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Shikweni said she got the idea to start making the masks when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the phased reopening of the economy, and that wearing masks will become compulsory.
She said she immediately converted her textiles business, Hluvuko Designs, to make masks.
Aside from the masks she distributed for free, Shikweni said Netcare Sandton also ordered 20 000 masks, which they were paying for.
Her husband, Jeremiah, who works as a security guard and comes home at night to help cut the cloth for the masks, said he is incredibly proud of his wife.
"She is playing her part in trying to lower the number of coronavirus cases reported, and is helping to provide an income to those in need," Jeremiah said.
"She is my everyday hero."
**South Africans are playing an increasingly important role to take care of their communities every day, and to improve their circumstances.
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