My journey into the non- profit world….
Life has thrown quite a few curve balls in my direction with multiple career changes made more out of necessity than by choice. Each experience has been a good learning curve in various functions of the workplace. It can be said that I have a degree in the hard knocks of life which has, over the years, given me great skills to do the work that I am meant to do. So, it is true there is always good that comes out of hardship. It’s just quite difficult to see it at the time.
OK, let’s start the journey….
Teen age years – 1985
My first encounter with the hungry was as a teenager in apartheid South Africa. Living in a middle class suburb, I was unaware of the cruelty and injustice endured by my fellow South Africans in other communities. I grew up in a family where our domestic worker was accepted as part of the family and treated well. In my cocooned world, all was right. One day, two boys came knocking on our door asking for food (no fences or security in those days). It became a ritual and I was always ready for them with delicious “dagwood” sandwiches and big mugs of tea. We would sit on our verandah chatting while they ate.
Young adult years – 1986 to July 2008
My second encounter with the needy was living in a flat in central Durban, where it became par of the course for me to put money in the hats of beggars in streets whenever I walked past them.
Relocating to Pietermaritzburg to start a nursing career at Greys Hospital, I joined a local church that focused on short mission trips to surrounding African countries. On one of these trips visiting a refugee camp on the border of South Africa and Mozambique, it was heartbreaking seeing the displaced and destitute from Mozambique’s civil wars. Being the first time I had seen the lowest form of poverty, this touched me to the core and I battled to reconcile the affluence of my world which was in stark contrast with families that did not have food, clothing or shelter. This was my first mind blowing shift.
Life continued with many twists and turns. I got married and had two beautiful kids. Sadly, after a couple of tumultuous years whilst still in my twenties, this ended in divorce. This drastically changed the course of my life and my choices. There seemed to be no time or financial security for me to be part of helping and reaching out to the disadvantaged. Often, as a single mom, I was disadvantaged myself and, at times, unemployed. So, I settled for secure jobs instead of job satisfaction. My priority was taking care of my children.
This was still a season of my life that holds pleasant memories. I was raising two amazing children with the love and support of church family and friends and enjoyed a healthy outdoor social life.
I got to a point in my working life where the working conditions were so unpleasant and stressful, that they negatively affected my health and well-being. I felt trapped and very unsure as to how to move forward. On top of a hill at a friend’s farm, I poured out my heart to God, praying for guidance.
There I was reminded of the passion and heart I have for the disadvantaged and decided to start a journey walking towards my dream to help these communities. At the same time, an industrial psychologist told me that my current work place would crush my personality type and that the best career path for me would be in charity environment or in my own business.
Things came to a head when I became ill as direct result of work stress and the doctor booked me off for an entire month, resulting in me resigning to work in my own business. With nothing more than a computer at a desk next to my bed, a telephone and small printer, I started a recruitment company.
At the very same time, my church asked me to pioneer a project to help an underprivileged community on our church’s doorstep. A new journey began with me being both a business woman and working in the community. The business kept us going and I had the freedom to enjoy working on various project within that community backed by the most amazing and skilled volunteers. i.e.
- Providing food parcels for child headed households/ orphaned children
- Arranging sewing lessons for the orphans’ caregivers
- Helping set up a community vegie garden
- Compiling an Aids education syllabus for primary school kids
- Running sports and fun days involving volunteers from church Absa bank, Private Schools in PMB
- Providing Christmas gifts for 800 children
Many of these projects are still running today.
July 2008 to February 2012
Some business deals went south where customers defaulted on paying, forcing me to face some hard choices. This took me on an 8 month journey that was one of the lowest seasons in my life. All my “gung ho” strength evaporated and I felt like a puddle in the road that everyone was stepping on.
Everything was so hard, I tried to find a job and, in spite of promising interviews, the jobs never materialized apart form a small part time contracting position. At that time, one of my national customers contacted me and gave me recruitment business. This helped me get on my feet again.
I was set for another 6 months financially and began building up the business again. Then came a downturn in the economy and high level positions were frozen. The placements in the pipeline did not materialize, completely wiping out my 6 month financial budget.
I literally sat down on my lounge floor and wept, ready to give up. A friend phoned me, prayed for me and encouraged me not to. He helped me by giving my company retainer business for a three month project. This developed into a business partnership with my recruitment company falling under their company umbrella for an incubation period.
Over the next three and a half years with their financial support I managed to build up the company into a self-sustained entity. It was a financially secure and good time for me where I had mentors in all aspects of business.
Yet, something was missing. I felt like I was just going through the motions and putting one foot in front of the other.
March 2012 to date…
It was time for my life to take a completely new direction…After many discussions with the owner of a private company who was passionate about helping unemployed in KZN, I started a journey towards working in the non-profit field. With the support of financing from this private company, I had an opportunity to joint venture with an emerging non-profit organisation. I was finally moving into the direction of what I am meant to do with my life and, although it was scary, I felt alive and knew it was right.
But right is not always easy. For various reasons, the relationship between the private company and non-profit soured. Careerlinx had already been created and the non-profit did not have the funding for the project. I was left in the middle and had to decide what now? Having had made a huge life choice going into this joint venture, handing over a lucrative little company to my partners walking away with nothing with the absolute conviction that I was on the right track, the only choice was to persevere.
So the official journey as founder of Careerlinx Empowerment Solutions NPC started when we registered it in October 2012 with very limited funding. This was a huge leap of faith for me ushering me into a period of personal sacrifice and humbling experiences. But it has also been the most rewarding journey that I have been on.
I had to relocate from a home that I was just about to purchase and go into shared accommodation. My church gave me food parcels and some financial assistance. There were some moments of despair and self-doubt where I would ask myself the question: “Aren’t you fooling yourself? You are trying to help disadvantaged communities but here you are currently just as disadvantaged!”
The things that kept me going were professional colleagues that invited me to be part of World of Work days, giving talks to unemployed youth on being job ready, speaking to them and being reminded of the great need for the service Careerlinx was aiming to provide.
Some friends put petrol in my car so that I could go to the communities to help them. Other friends made sure that Christmas with my children still had presents and a feast. My faith in God and the prayers and love of friends at that time kept moving me forward.
Our very first victory in connecting the unemployed to work opportunities still has me in tears as it was a miracle. An organization was awarded a cleaning contract just after Christmas. They needed 70 office cleaners to start on a cleaning project in January. Between Christmas and New Year, I joined by one of our directors and WCA academy staff and interviewed over 300 people.
We submitted 120 names and 70 of those people started working. Many of them had been looking for jobs for years. We had a work ethic training day with them before they started and a man came up to me afterwards with tears in his eyes. He said he had been home unemployed for 5 years praying for an opportunity to work and earn a living. This man has an engineering diploma, yet was so desperate that he was happy to work as an office cleaner!
As I had to live and eat and Careerlinx had no funding yet, I took on a part time job with a non-profit with the understanding that I will continue to grow Careerlinx during the remainder of my hours.
During that time, we managed to get funding that enabled Careerlinx to grow and increase its impact. This enabled me to resign from my part time job in April 2014 as Careerlinx required my full attention.
Beyond this point, I won’t reinvent the wheel as you can go read all about the rest of Careerlinx journey from there on our website. www.careerlinx.co.za
I am at a place now where I know that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is what I am called to do. I am grateful to finally be in a place where I am called and not just going through the motions.
There are continuous challenges in being a non-profit organization to which other non-profits can attest. There are huge challenges in the space that we operate, offering employment facilitation services as an intervention. There is still so much more that needs to be done, but I am committed to walking hand in hand with other non-profits, churches, corporate companies and individuals that choose to persevere in seeing impoverished communities in South Africa uplifted.
We need help on this seemingly impossible journey. Will you take our hand and join us on a journey to see the people in our beautiful country walk with their heads held high? We not only help provide employment but also dignity through the services we currently provide and aim to provide.
If the answer is yes please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to having you join the movement.