‘Our children do not believe ‘nice things’ are for them. This is why our digital intervention project is so important to me. Our children will learn about how much there is out there for them beyond the boundaries of their townships,” says Hella Ledwaba, 38, founder of Vuka Skhokho: The Jermaine Lungile Schmidt Foundation.
What began as a small initiative working with nyaope-addicted waste pickers has grown into a public benefit organisation.
Vuka Skhokho has an informal early childhood development centre, a soup kitchen feeding nearly 200 vulnerable people daily and an amazing school facilitation team with 20 members who raise awareness on substance abuse at schools, primarily in Alexandra, but more recently in Orange Farm and soon to make inroads in Soweto and Vosloorus.
Vuka Skhokho launched a nonprofit dedicated to working with informal recyclers. They have designed the Eco-Rover trolley that can be adapted for female recyclers and older people, as well as stronger, more able recyclers who pull heavy loads.
The project will empower informal recyclers and identify individuals to run their own buy-back centres. Hella also works for the Institute of Healing of Memories as a community healing coordinator and offers Healing of Memories workshops in Malawi and eSwatini, working with traumatised and marginalised groups who do not have places to deal with their often brutal experiences.
Hella has fostered relationships among many grassroots organisations and across townships.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
This calling is bigger than me. I am a mere instrument.
Our theme this year is Accelerating Equality & Empowerment in Women. How do you empower yourself and women around you?
I have put myself into spaces and roles that intimidated me but I did not let my insecurities deter me. All our female volunteers, be it those who came to start cooking in our kitchen or be youth facilitators in our school programmes, are encouraged to tell me what their true passion is, and I make sure that we try to create opportunities within the organisation where they can explore this passion. An example being Nomsa who joined us in 2021 as a volunteer cook for our soup kitchen. She now runs our informal ECD while attending courses to help her gain skills in this field. She loves children and children love her. Watching her fulfil this dream has been amazing.
If you could change or achieve one thing for South Africa today, what would it be?
Schoolchildren don’t dare dream big anymore. We assisted Safripol and WhyToyz run a competition in underprivileged schools last year and we had to convince children to enter because they didn’t want to win the big prize, a trip to Cape Town, as they would have to speak English. Our children do not believe “nice things” are for them. This is why our Digital Intervention Project is so important to me. Our children will learn about how much there is out there for them beyond the boundaries of their townships.