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Ntombosindiso Genge is a finalist in The Herald Citizens of the Year Awards in partnership with Nelson Mandela University.

Instead of partying or buying things for herself, a young Gqeberha woman is using her salary to feed the impoverished children of Veeplaas. 

If that’s not enough, municipal secretary and part-time waitress Ntombosindiso Genge also runs a charity to help young mothers and their babies.

Genge, 29, better known as “Sindiso Sunflower” because of her warm personality, is a finalist in the philanthropy category of The Herald Citizens of the Year awards in partnership with Nelson Mandela University.

She said on Wednesday the projects were her response to the need she perceived.

“I don’t like to see people suffer. It breaks my heart.

“If I read a sad post I think what can be done to fix this.”

She said her soup kitchen in Veeplaas, one of the poorest corners of Nelson Mandela Bay, had been running on a weekly basis since January 2020.

“We cook the soup at my home in New Brighton and then negotiate with a jikeleza to transport us at a good price across to Veeplaas. 

“Two of the community members there have kindly agreed to let us use their homes so we set up at one of those houses and serve the soup from there.

“On average, we get 75 children at a time though once it was as high as 120.”

She said she packed the soup with vegetables and lentils to make it thick and occasionally also used some meat.

“There are also some hungry adults that arrive and we just serve them on the side — they don’t have to queue.”

She said soon after she started the soup kitchen she had received funding for a month from the Gem Project non-profit organisation in Kragga Kamma but this had not continued.

“I fund the soup kitchen from my pocket.”

She said when the youngsters received their bowls of soup their eyes lit up.

“I feel happy because of that but still sad to see such poverty first hand.”

She said she had started working in the metro’s monitoring and evaluation department in 2018 and had previously been a waitress.

“At one point to get more money as an extra job I started waitressing again part-time but that became impossible when the lockdowns started happening.”

Genge grew up in Kwanxolo and Veeplaas and matriculated at Paterson High School before going on to get a public management degree from Nelson Mandela University.

She said the pandemic had been especially brutal on destitute young mothers and when she realised this she knew she had to do something.

“These are women already from disadvantaged backgrounds and then when Covid happened the people that used to help them disappeared because they needed to look after themselves so these women had nobody to turn to.”

She said she launched Umdlezane (isiXhosa for young mother) in August 2020 and was running it on a quarterly basis.

“I started by using Facebook to ask friends to donate baby products or clothes for babies or moms.

“There was a nice response and we organised a flea market where these needy young mothers could come and get what they needed and at the same time get out the house and have a shopping experience.

“As the time for each Umdlezane market comes around I send out reminders to any possible donors.

“Among the donors, the Salvation Army gave nappies and two suitcases of clothes and baby blankets.”

She said she had ideas for several other charity projects, including collecting and distributing books to the soup kitchen children to spark a reading culture, and teaching the young mothers how to make earrings and plant vegetable gardens — but progress on those fronts had been limited by the pandemic.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 23 August 2021 written by Guy Rogers Nelson Mandela University is the main sponsor in the Citizens of the Year Awards 2021.

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