Imagine an initiative that creates jobs, improves food security, restores human dignity and cares for animals, all at the same time. Thusong Projects does exactly this through its sustainable programmes running in Kwazulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Western Cape.
The initiative is currently feeding 5 190 people daily, often their only meal for the day. Through 50 urban gardening projects it has inspired countless people to not only feed their own families, but to start their own cooperatives, selling their produce to generate an income.
Thusong was established in 2001 by the non-profit VESCO Group, which dates all the back to 1944. VESCO, initially funded by the steel industry, developed the town of Vanderbijlpark and some of its surrounding townships.
Thusong Projects is one of a number of companies in the group, which also includes a training company, nursery and various primary schools. Thusong has implemented a variety of programmes in Newcastle, Saldanha Bay and the Vaal area.
In 2015 the initiative, originally called the Vesco Community Enterprise (VCE), was renamed the Thusong Projects. The word Thusong means a place where you can find help. According to the Project Manager Daisy Makume, the name change was part of their transformation and for the beneficiaries to identify with the programmes.
Programmes running under Thusong Projects include a soup kitchen and nursery, which serves soup and bread to 72 organisations. Makume says the soup kitchen currently operates in the Vaal area. “For now we’re serving organizations in the Vaal area, however we would like to expand to Newcastle, should we get funding for it.” She adds.
As part of their agricultural development programme, training is offered to unemployed people within the three municipal areas. They also receive urban gardening skills up to National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level two. The project also supports existing food garden ventures with seeds, tools and other equipment needed to manage their gardens.
The project also offers sewing and craft training sessions. Unemployed people receive basic sewing skills, with which they could start their own small business.
During winter the programme runs a blanket drive to donate blankets to old age homes and centres for people with disabilities.
Believe it or not, it doesn’t stop there. Wheelchairs, beds, cleaning materials, nappies and handwork materials also gets donated to disability development and support centres. Clothing for babies and children is provided to people in need.
Over and above all the upliftment programmes, the initiative runs additional special projects like crime prevention campaigns, trauma centre support, animal welfare, disaster relief and supplying feminine hampers and food parcels.
Makume says they’re hoping to expand on their urban gardening projects to continue empowering the people involved. They’re also planning to expand their craft room to include beading.
The aim, says Kotlane, is to upskill communities to be able to generate an income by starting up their own small businesses. The initiative also strives to alleviate poverty by providing 1 200 litres of soup daily.
The NPO has partnered with a number of organisations and institutions like the Vaal University of Technology, the MTN Foundation, Lifeline Vaal, the Lawrence Khekhe Foundation Blanket drive and local media. Kotlane says they’re constantly looking for partnerships and sponsorships to be able to expand on their projects and programmes to continue making a difference.
The Thusong Project’s success lies in the 5 190 people being fed on a daily basis.
Makume says this is often their only meal for the day. “We have trained a number of people through our urban gardening projects. Fifty urban gardening projects are currently running where individuals have started their own cooperatives, selling their produce to generate an income,” adds Makume.
Through their training programmes, more people have now started their own home food gardening projects. They now grow their own vegetables and can provide meals for their families daily.
Makume hopes to build their organization and embark on even bigger projects. “We would like to do more and, with better donations, maybe even start an agriculture academy and start our own bread-making project,” she adds.