Brenda Smit-James ~ Author, Presenter, Digital CEO

Addressing POVERTY with PHAKAMANI


Pushing back poverty one book at a time!

Street side vendor with store assisted by donations from Brenda Smit-James

God has grown a heart for the poor in me. As I share in my memoir When God Says No, the circumstances around my mother's death called my attention to how few options the poor actually have.

South Africa has a two-tiered medical system, private medical insurance and then public care for the poor and for those who, although not poor, cannot afford the prohibitive cost of private medical care. My parents fell into the latter category. When my mother became ill, she was attended to by the public heath care system. What my mother experienced and witnessed during her treatment at Johannesburg's public hospital, and what I also then became privy too, was how the poor are:

a) devalued as people simply by virtue of the fact that they are poor and

b) are at the mercy of the potentially uncaring medical professionals at a vulnerable time in their lives because

c) they have no choice and no voice.

I agree with Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa, who said that, "All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them." However, in order to heal, I knew that some greater good had to come out of my grief and my mother's suffering. A good that was beyond simply the telling of it.

Having seen the poverty of the hospital, a hospital that was once the flagship of medical prowess in South Africa, the apathy of many of the medical staff and also how sorely lacking the care of the poor was, I knew that I couldn't accept that that was just how it was - and simply move on with my life. In my mother's memory I wanted to give the poor a voice and the opportunity to have at least some choice.

As a result, in memory of my mother, I donate $2 from the sale of every book to Phakamani Foundation. Phakamani, which means 'Rise-Up' in Zulu, is a micro-lending organisation that empowers destitute women in South Africa to start their own enterprises.

My husband and I have supported Phakamani, which was started by our friends Mark and Shirley Tucker, for a number of years. However, I never thought when I was writing my memoir that it could be used to generate financial support and exposure for this worthwhile organization. That is until, one day, my husband said to me, "You know for every book you sell, we should consider making a donation to Phakamani."

With that everything fell into place.

Writing my story has helped me to heal and now it is at work to help us continue making a difference in the lives of poor women in Mpumulanga and KwaZulu-Natal. Every donation not only contributes in giving someone a chance to start her own business, it also gives her hope for herself and her family.

Business start-ups can be as modest as raising chickens, selling floor polish or airtime cards, running a basic roadside stall or renting chairs. It can also be more developed such as an established mini-grocery stall, a hairdressing salon or a dressmaking business.

If you have bought a book, whether it be from me, from Amazon or Chapters.Indigo, or one of the book stores that carry my book - thank you! Together we are making a difference.

Interested in more on this topic? Then read my review of Trevor Noah's memoir Born a Crime where I also discuss the plight of the poor. 

You can also find links to my three most recent blog posts right here.

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