Meals on Wheels in Guguletu

By Jane Letourneau

This past August I received an email from a daughter of a friend telling me that my friend, her mother, Mary, had a stroke at the end of July.  She said that she was in a rehabilitation center and was getting stronger daily.  She was still weak on her right side but could speak.  I called Mary right away.  I was so worried and concerned for her and her husband, Ben.  Mary is 72, a mother of 6, (her youngest son passed away on Christmas day 2008) and grandmother of 15.

We met Mary in 2003 when she was working as a supervisor for the CPOA (Cape Peninsula Welfare Organization), a senior center in Guguletu.  After 14 years of service, Mary retired at 67, but she didn’t really retire; she started a soup kitchen offering healthy snacks to the children who go the Xolani Primary School near her home.  Often when I was in Guguletu, I would stop by Mary’s house and assist her when the children came to see her.  I was in awe of Mary.  She always had a smile on her face and a hug for the children.  She never turned anyone away who was hungry.

When I arrived here in Cape Town three weeks ago my first stop was to see Mary and Ben.  I have to say I was shocked when I saw her. Like many of us, we expect a stroke victim to not look like themselves; but there was Mary sitting up, dressed in her finery with a very smart short haircut.  She didn’t look sick to me but as soon as she stood up and tried to hug me, I knew that she was not my Mary.  Mary and Ben were struggling to accept their new routine – a complete role reversal – with Ben having to cook, clean, do laundry and take care of Mary.  I could see and feel the strain of their new situation.  I brought food to them when I went to visit, but I realized it wasn’t enough.  Ben didn’t even know how to boil water!

As I left that afternoon I kept trying to think of a way that we could help them and it dawned on me, Meals on Wheels.  I worked with a woman, Nkqo, at the JL Zwane Center (also in Guguletu) who cooked in the kitchen.  Nkqo had retired in 2009 due to poor leg circulation and therefore couldn’t stand in the kitchen cooking all day anymore.  I would visit her each trip back to Cape Town and knew her health had significantly improved and was at home trying to do some catering, but because of her circulation issue she could not go back to full time work.

Nkqo is now 65 and a pensioner.  She lives with her sister (who is in a wheelchair and is an epileptic), her daughter, grandchild and an adopted daughter who is a senior in high school.  Her eldest daughter is the only one working in the family (she works for the Desmond Tutu HIV/AIDS Foundation) so money is very tight.  I went to visit Nkqo to ask her if she would be willing to provide meals for Mary and Ben three days a week until the end of December, or when Mary is strong enough to start cooking again.  Nkqo was thrilled.  This gave her a job for a short period of time doing something she loved to do.  We agreed on a monthly amount that would be enough to purchase food for Mary and Ben and also provide a bit to her family before the festive season (holiday season in the U.S.).

Yesterday, I took Nkqo to meet Mary and Ben face-to-face.  It was so wonderful for them to meet in person.  Mary kept telling Nkqo the food was wonderful, that she thought she and Ben were getting fat (they both needed to add some kgs to their bodies!) and how happy they were to have friends assist them while they were going through this difficult time.  I have to admit that I was very touched by this encounter.  We never realize at times that there our people in our own community who do not have the support they need when a terrible illness arises.  Acacia Global is all about community, bringing people together, showing support and love by being there when we see a need.