We featured two of the smiliest of smile stories this week, both of which made my heart swell with pride, because they come from the ghettos where I spent my childhood. Generally, these are not places of great hope or encouragement. But that is not to say that people don’t dream or aspire to be more than their circumstances. And all it takes is one; just one individual with a sense of purpose to lead the way consistently. The two stories that caught my ear this week are just such shining examples of perseverance against impossible odds, that we need to slowly start to change the stereotypes that Cape Flats suburbs are known for.
The first story is of Parkwood resident Rashaad Allen (47), who as a young man fell in with the wrong crowd and got drawn into the ugly, dark underworld of gangsterism. It’s a lifestyle that all gangsters understand will inevitably lead to either the mortuary or a prison cell. Fortunately, in this case, Rashaad ended up serving a collective 20 years in several of the Western Cape’s prisons for robbery and armed robbery? He says having his mother and his young son visit him and be forced to speak to him through security glass, is what made him want to turn his life around. He used his time to start the “Foundation for Positive Change,” which offers various programmes for men and women who lost their way. Seven schools in the Parkwood/Grassy Park area are sending learners to him for drug counselling and guidance on a regular basis.
“Doesn’t matter what time, day or night, I don’t turn anyone away, because tomorrow may just be too late for them,” he says. Rashaad reckons his experience in prison with gangsterism, drugs and conflict resolution is what equipped him for what he calls his “life’s purpose.” And he is so dedicated to this purpose that he funds it from his own pocket, with money he earns from his other jobs. This is a very good example of not only fighting direct crime, which as we know is merely a symptom of a bigger socio-economic ecosystem. Crime can in fact be prevented if we all put some effort into addressing the causes more effectively. The more Rashaads there are in our communities, the better our chances of actually making headway towards a safer society for all.
Currently there are 35 men and four women in his care, which means Rashaad is in need of help. Several beds were donated to him, but needs mattresses and bedding. If you are able to help, you can call him on 076 467 4912. I really do encourage you to help, because by helping a few young people find their way, you may just be preventing all the future crimes those young people are likely to commit as part of a gang, or to feed their drug habits. You are in reality not just helping them, but also yourself and your loved ones.
I am particularly proud of the second story, which hails from my old neighbourhood of Bonteheuwel. This is where I spent my teenage years and from where I accessed my school and first jobs making use mostly of the taxi and train services. It was heartening to hear of an initiative to provide free taxi rides to the elderly of the community. The “Taxi Give Back” project was dreamed up by the taxi assistant (or “guardjie,” as they are more commonly known) Yaseen Abrahams, who was mindful enough to notice the need. He suggested to his boss David Roman, who agreed, largely because he had been doing it informally with his driver for a long time. “AS long as we make the owner’s target, there’s no reason why we can’t help old people who need it,” he says. They are now trying to get other taxis to join the initiative so as to alleviate the burden on the community’s elderly.
The team offers free rides to people older than 70 during off peak times. This means that older persons needing to get to any of the main centres, like Gatesville, Athlone, Mowbray or Cape Town can do so, without worrying about the R24 taxi fare both ways. “That’s almost two breads’ money,” says David, as reason for why he is doing what he’s doing. Being restricted to their homes, can have a huge impact on quality of life for the elderly, who often struggle to access even shops that are nearby. Yaseen explains that he came to learn of elderly residents in a local retirement home. The 82-year-old man and his wheelchair-bound, 71-year-old wife are unable to get themselves to a nearby clinic or the local shopping centre three kilometres away. Not having their own transport or enough money for a taxi, means they are beholden to others to help them access service the rest of us take for granted.
Stories like this strengthened Yaseen’s resolve even further to get the project up and running. They are now waiting to hear from the local councillor to help them expand the project and get other taxi owners involved. This is a very thoughtful initiative from an industry that often takes a lot of flak for its perceived lawlessness in pursuit of profits. Here they are showing that they can be considerate and empathetic, while also making a living for themselves. Hopefully it serves as inspiration for other business to look at ways to give back to the community in novel ways that don’t necessarily threaten their bottom lines.