“I grew up taking care of people. I worked throughout my high school years so that I could help my parents with money. When my father died, my mother became very sick. I had to look after her and I became a mother-figure to my siblings.
So when a friend suggested I volunteer at Ikamva Labantu, I went the next day to see how I could help. I did odd jobs for a while; I was shy and scared that I wasn’t doing the right thing. But I never gave up – when I do something, I do it properly.
Soon they asked me to bring in my CV. I didn’t know anything about being an Umelwane – but I told myself I must try. I had a feeling that the job was mine. Even when I got the job, I was still nervous as I had only worked with children before, not seniors.
As an Umelwane, I searched door-to-door for seniors who needed help. It can be scary, because you never know what you will face behind that closed door. Some of the seniors can be stubborn and don’t want to come to a place that they don’t know. Still, I have recruited about 35 elderly citizens to our senior club, which now has over 50 members. It is just one of Ikamva Labantu’s 19 senior clubs.
I always felt that there was someone inside of me who wanted to come out and do amazing things. I have now been promoted to Club Assistant and I make sure that all the needs of our club members are met. It was difficult for me to come out of my shell, but now I can’t be stopped!
At the club, the seniors know that someone has their back, that someone is there when they need a shoulder to cry on – they know they will be treated with dignity and respect. And the seniors are a great support for each other when they face difficult things in their lives.
We had one senior who was raped by a man in her neighourhood. She did not come to the club for months, and when she did return she was quiet and withdrawn. On the day of her attacker’s court case, all of the seniors from the club stood outside the court with placards. They were a huge support to her. Now, she has started to smile again at the club. When I see that smile, I know that there is hope.
That is why we do this work. Not for recognition – but to bring hope to people.
I asked one senior what Ikamva Labantu has done for her. She told me ‘I have never had a bank account before. Now, because of Ikamva Labantu I have a bank account and I know how to save my money.’
When I applied for this job, I didn’t realise that I would fall in love with it. But when I see that I helped to make just a small change with one senior – that is very big to me.
I realise now that I have always had a passion to help people. Today, it’s the seniors who are my responsibility, so I must be there for them.”
Kholeka started out volunteering for Ikamva Labantu and was soon offered the position of an Umelwane (Neighbourhood Friend). Umelwanes provide home-based care for frail seniors, and recruit mobile seniors to our clubs. Today, Kholeka is a Club Assistant at Masincediswe Senior Club in Khayelitsha. She is a shining example of someone who is committed to uplifting their community.
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