It is early in the morning at Kwamagaba, a Hammarsdale township in KwaZulu-Natal, and a small six-room building is already abuzz with activity. This is a facility run by a non-profit organisation (NPO) called Children of Destiny at Home (Codah). For at least 13 years, it has been upskilling the area’s unemployed, greatly improving their prospects in the world.
The one room already bustling early in the morning has fabrics strewn all over and sewing machines set up in rows. “This is where we teach women and some men to sew. This is the first programme I helped start when I became part of Codah. A lot of people are unemployed in the township and have no means of earning an income; but this has helped many people eat for over 10 years now,” says Hlengiwe Gumede, 40, Codah’s operations manager.
In the sewing programme, people are taught basic sewing skills such as handling a sewing machine, stitching, threading and pattern cutting.
Gumede says Codah was established in 2008 by Simon Taal and Anneke Taal who have since left South Africa. Wilson Goeda and Grace Goeda, who both managed multiple NPOs in the past, now run it.
Codah began as a charity programme with its initial aim to help feed children and the unemployed. A garden and bakery were set up and donated food parcels distributed.
Over the years, it has grown to become an institution offering a range of programmes to improve the lives of local people, especially children, by training and upskilling them.
Gumede herself got her wings from the organisation.
“When I got here, I had just lost my parents after they were both ill for a long time. I was walking around looking for food and I was eating out of the bin when some people noticed me and told me that there is free bread and vegetables being given to people at Kwamagaba hall,” says Gumede.
She went and was given food. She soon became a regular and would always be given enough food to feed herself and her two children.
After she had formed a good relationship with those running Codah, she began helping its volunteers give food to others. But that was not the end. Soon, her education was taken care of too.
“I looked closely at the situation in the community and after I got an opportunity to study fashion design through this organisation I knew I wanted others to get a chance to become employable,” says Gumede.
The organisation offers other programmes, besides fashion design and sewing classes.
It also has a programme called Community Computer Training. For this, one class has been turned into a computer laboratory. Here, 130 children of school-going age are taught computer skills. Older people in the area may use the computers to apply for employment opportunities.
The laboratory also houses an English-fluency programme for adults. School leavers and anyone interested have free English lessons. Neliswa Ntombela, 21, says her command of the language has improved.
“I want to be a teacher, that’s why I joined the classes. Because I want to have more confidence when I speak English in job interviews and [at] work,” says Ntombela.
According to the Codah website there is also a vegetable gardening training programme that helps “families develop vegetable gardens at their own homes”.
Codah bakes about 1 024 loaves of bread weekly. This, on top of feeding about 2 500 people every month, also teaches the bakery volunteers a trade. This is part of a programme called Feed My People Bakery which aims to “provide bread every day to the poor”.
According to Statistics South Africa, the unemployment rate in terms of the expanded definition is 44.4% with 13.5 million people not economically active and 3.3 million of the more than 30 million people of working age classed as discouraged work seekers.
It is not only young people who are struggling. Zodwa Khoza, 48, is unemployed and regularly collects bread from the Codah kitchen.
“I have let the idea of getting a job go; I am no longer trying as I used to. I lost a job at a food manufacturing company more than 10 years ago and have struggled since to get a job. In South Africa, if you do not know a person who is already inside, it is hard to get work. I would stand outside all the firms around here – the ones for clothes and food – but no luck,” says Khoza.
Khoza has three children. They get their school uniforms from Codah. “I have no idea what I would do without the help from Hlengiwe and the organisation. With their support, I know I can put one and two together and my children will have their needs met,” she says.
Gumede says many people who have had an opportunity to learn some skills with Codah say they feel fulfilled and proud. “I won’t lie and say I came here to help people, I came because of hunger but I found that I can be of help on the way,” she says.
“Even some of the other ladies were speaking about being glad that the work of their hands can help feed the community. That is all we are trying to do: shift people from just accepting help to them helping themselves and others.”
It has not been smooth sailing, however. Codah constantly has to deal with problems.
“All our programmes are free but you find that people are challenged by transport to get here from other sections. And we also struggle with consistent sponsorship – there are gaps between applying and getting the assistance. These gaps make it hard to retain staff and to always help as much as we want,” says Gumede.
Naledi Sikhakhane is the 2022 Eugene Saldanha Fellow in social justice journalism.
Correction, 24 May 2022: The Eugene Saldanha Memorial fellowship is supported by the SET. It was incorrectly referred to as a fund.