CARING for the less fortunate and helping others are driving passions for Motherwell community worker Zodwa Plaatjie, who has inspired a group of NMMU students to also give back to society.
In 2005, Plaatjie and her petrol attendant husband Siphiwo founded the Motherwell-based Sihlangule Aids Networking Organisation, which extends over five units in the township.
The organisation encompasses a pre-school, community garden project and a beadwork and sewing division for elderly women.
Plaatjie, who is from Tsolo in the Transkei, started the Sihlangule creche in 2009 after the gardening and beadwork projects in 2005, and says it is her humble beginnings which triggered her hunger to give back to the community.
“When I was 10 days old, my mother died, and my father died when I was very young as well. I grew up as an orphan and I had nobody else to take care of me,” she said.
“While I was growing up, I started to take care of my sister’s child who is also an orphan. He has gone on to graduate from NMMU with a BCom accounting degree. But that thing that I had of taking care of people came back to me and I was motivated to do more.”
As part of the extensive project, she runs a home visitation project for the elderly. “Because I grew up without parents, I started this project with the elderly where I would visit their homes to comfort them and take care of them and also bring them soup.
“I’ve grown to realise through the years that because I didn’t find that motherly or parental love at home, I have found that love with all the elderly people I have in the project. They motivate me and the love that I haven’t had before, I have found in them.”
For her work in a township ridden with poverty and unemployment, Plaatjie was awarded runner-up prize in the youth category of the community builder of the year awards in the Eastern Cape, only three years after starting out.
Sihlangule offers various services, from grant application assistance to rape and domestic violence victim support.
“I work wherever I am needed. Whether it is in someone’s home or helping people to grow a food garden. People often ask me why I do what I do and I always tell them it is because I love volunteering and helping people.
“My heart feels good when I see someone whom I have helped and they have gone on to progress in life. I wish the government could realise that there are organisations and people living in the dusty streets who need help.
“It does not even have to be monetary help, it could be food, clothes or even soup. That’s all that people really need to survive,” she said.