Poverty came knocking

It’s already been some weeks that we have been living in Cape Town. 9 students in a really nice house, with a swimming pool and so on and soforth. We been traveling out into the townships, working and learning about social entrepreneurship. One day it rung on the door, and I rushed to open. I didn’t bother checking the monitor, because we do have a street cam.

Suddenly, I found myself face to face with a guy with a black bag asking if I could let him in. There are two gates between our house and the street, one on the main entrance, another one on the outer wall which surrounds the house. All of us living in the house have clickers which open the metal gates with a simple click. Between me and that bearded bloke was two gates, and I had to press the right button as to not let him completely in. Off course he probably didn’t have any intentions of doing anything wrong, but I didn’t want to let him into the courtyard. My pondering on which button to press while I smalltalked seemed like a small eternity.

I did press the right button, letting me out of the house to move a little closer. The guy standing outside the fence was a bearded guy with a black sports bag, and he didn’t seem poor at all. He boasted something about working for some aid thing, but at the same time I could see that he wanted to peddle useless stuff. A mere piece of cloth designed to wipe glasses was something he planned to charge R30 for. I said that I wasn’t prepared to pay anything for something like that, and as I was turning he called after me, “how about a small donation then?” Normally I wouldn’t have bothered turning back, but there’s something about being confronted outside one’s home. So, I felt truly compelled to turn around.

Reaching into my pocket I pulled out something like R2.50, which is like almost nothing. By then there was already another outstreched hand coming through the bars, a black man who didn’t say anything. “Is this guy with you?” I asked and the white bearded guy promptly replied, “no.” So, I ended up giving both of them a R2.50 & R2 respectively. The black guy mumbled and clearly mimicked that he would very much like a blanket to keep himself wam. I had to draw the line there, and refused the request.

Even though my monetary loss was next to nothing, it still felt like a strong loss. My convinctions towards poor people is that I give no alms whatsoever. Aid pacifies the recipient, whether on large or small scale. Off course there are many cases where the poor have no chances at getting a normal job because they are disabled in some way, or just too old. When it comes to regular healthy adults, they do have oppurtunities to claw their way into a sustainable livelihood. Kids are another group which I’m reluctant to help, who’s to know that they’re not being sent out by their parents or something down that alley?

Following the incident I had at the gates, I’ve always been checking the monitor to see who’s at the gates before opening up the main door. It eventually led to an embarrasing moment, where I gave our cleaning lady quite the interrogation on her first day of work before one of my friends intervened and said that she was expected. Luckily she didn’t bear a grudge.

Other people in the house have also been confronted by beggars at the main gate, and they have felt equally troubled as me in turning them away. Most of them know exactly what to say, in order to make an emotional impact.

It isn't easy for the homeless people to ask either... Credit: vanswearingen

I came across a poster at the local Spar: “Give a hand up, not a hand out.” This is a campaign initiated by the local community here in Observatory.

“The idea is to discourage people from giving cash handouts, which usually benefit local bottlestores.” Source: www.obz.org.za

There is in fact a safety net for homeless people. Local shelters offer warm meals and such, in addition to programs designed to get homeless people of the streets. The bottleneck is that many homeless like to drink or do other substances, and don’t want to give that up. Giving up the bottle is a main criteria for participation in the shelters’ programs.

It’s good to see campaigns like “Give a hand up, not a hand out.” That hasn’t given up on the homeless people, and at the same time tries to break the spirals which keep the homeless on the streets.


Nyanga – 02


Time to sort out some of the thoughts that have sprung up as we have been working at the center.


  • Finalized the contract, and sent it over to Wendy at head office.
  • Ran into Varkey George and a norwegian physician named Signe (the lady who’d tipped Mari of Varkey and set this whole program in motion).
  • Roamed around the center discussing the computer skills program, but we couldn’t get far without Sicelo’s input.


  • It was raining so heavily, so we postponed going to the schools until the day after.
  • Contract was approved, but the contract ends during the holidays and that must be arranged for.
  • We discussed Isaac’s, one of the it – tutors, future employment. Isaac seems quite keen to keep working at K2, which we’ll happily oblige to and keep Sicelo (the head it – tutor.) Later that day we hired a guy named Tando for a two week period of teaching.
  • Sent out requests for food donations. Asking for aid is not quite the social entrepreneurial way, since it just makes the center reliant on some other organization besides SHAWCO. We’d to it for this time only, but our focus must remain on heightening the center’s income.

Wednesday (today)

  • The two schools we were supposed to visit are currently preparing for the holidays, so the principals from both schools were too busy to have us over today. So, we moved it to the day after. We need to get to the schools before Friday, which is the start of the holidays.
  • Assisted at a handout – event organized by a local N.G.O.. Food was handed out to parents with babies. It seemed to be something of a problem with parents who didn’t carry the proper papers  or hadn’t weighed their child at all. Some parents had to be shown away, because they lacked proper proof. A strong experience for us newcomers to be sure.
  • Finally met up with Sicelo, and he gave us rundown on how the IT – center have been doing as well as giving us a list of points he would like for us to keep in mind. Laura is someone at head office, responsible for Masizikhulise. We should make an appointment with her, and talk about the computer skills program’s future. Also discussed price with Sicelo and Jack, and we landed on R200 for three months of CS training. We will have to see what prices Cilulo charge for their CS training.
  • Priced the beadwork at R10 – R50. I had some ideas about the seniors who’s making the beads becoming part of a neigbouring organization’s BEE. (Black economic empowerment.)
  • Tando suddenly became superflous as step-in tutor since Sicelo seems to have been free during the week after all. However it would be wrong to cut off Tando at this point, so we made arrangements. (Not quite sure what they were.) Regardless, it results in Tando being the tutor for these two weeks and splitting the payment with Isaac who left without properly informing Eunice.
  • Denver, the IT guy, has been contacted and asked to come by on Monday to fix internet for all the computers. We would have to follow up on that, making sure he does show up and teaches Sicelo how to maintain the IT – system.
  • Decided to offer the security company the kitchen of the side building, which is actually not bad. We came to the decision while considering how to give the IT – center space to grow. Hopefully the security company will find it acceptable, or else we’ll have to make a new proposal.


  • Research whether or not the seniors who can make beads are available to run bead workshops. More importantly we need to find out if beads can be donated, who owns them?
  • Make arrangements with Etafeni, for a meeting to air the idea of a job marketing site.
  • ++

Nyanga – First day

Today we all rose up early to be ready at eight o’clock for Jo (our driver) to pick us up. And after realizing that a small miscommunication had occurred we finally left our place around 9. Good times, hehe. The weather was amazing though, and it didn’t take too long before me and Lars had our feet planted on the ground in Nyanga.

Driving on a motorway past a Township

First day of real work, but we were set on taking it easy and just assess the situation with a keen eye. So, our class of 17 students has been divided between all of Shawco’s centers. Nyanga, the center I wrote about in the previous post, has been so lucky to be assigned with hosting me and Lars. We make a good team because I’m a thinker, and he’s a doer. I have a B.A. in multimedia, while Lars has a B.A. in political sciences, and we’re both trained in entrepreneurship. Let’s make it happen I say!

What came out of the first day?

Team NyangaI could tell you so much about our first day at Nyanga, but I’ll stick with retelling some of the ideas that surfaced today. Talking with the center managers was very fruitfull. Sorry, but not everything will make perfect sense since this is more like quick notes.

  • Can we create an IT solution for job networking? The frustration is that a lot of IT – certified people are unemployed and at home, without a good way to advertise themselves.
  • Is the IT – center charging enough for it’s services? Can we also add visit card printing to the regular printing services?
  • Improving the entrepreneurial school. We want to get in touch with hopeful entrepreneurs who we can provide lessons in entrepreneurship, and perhaps together we can start some IT businesses. The thing is that me and Lars have several IT ideas for the other centers, but we can’t do it ourselves. Nor should we because they need to continue the whole thing after we leave after three months.
  • Is there possibilites for cooperation with the Etifani organization? They should be paying more for using our IT center, which they do use regularly for R10/hour.
  • After looking over the numbers briefly we started talking about investing in a car with a private driver instead of using the taxi service? Currently a taxi service is used to ship the seniors around, and it eats up roughly half the monthly budget.

While we were sitting around the table, and brainstorming, Lars asked a key question.

Where will the Nyanga center be in one year?

That will be hard to know, but we can help to steer it in a good direction. Me and Lars will provide some creativity and know-how, but the center managers will have to act as our anchor with the community. The center managers have a good idea of what ideas will be the most feasible, and what the community really needs.

Every friday is a meeting between Varkey George (head of Shawco) and each of the centers. Tomorrow happens to be one such friday, and it’s going to be interesting to see what comes out of it. I’m sure all of the other students working the other centers are brimming with ideas, questions and input as well.

The undertaking

It’s already our second week here in Cape Town. Last week we were shown around campus and also shown around the different townships (poor communities) where SHAWCO the student organization we’re working with operates.

Each of the centers have their own unique characteristics, and I’ll try to make a small list of what our class of 17 social entrepreneurs (in training) will be dealing with. Also listed is working in the head office, where some projects are run from. The first week went by with us being introduced to the various centers. We have had time to reflect over where we would like to be stationed, and what projects we would like to pursue over the course of the next three months.

Common to all the centers is that we will have to analyze their spending, and make an overview of their spending. We are to work closely with the center managers so that after mapping out the investments & expenses from 2008 up until present date they’ll be able to take over. This is a crucial task that has been given to us. If we can educate the center managers and teach them proper bookeeping it would be a serious contribution. Shawco is growing and needs to have a better overview. It is necessary to be able to keep track of the spending at the individual centers, which isn’t happening at present date. Someone needs to teach and encourage the center managers to do so.

Is it possible to make these centers self-sustainable or even profitable?

What follows are a list of the centers and some of the individual features to them.

Khayelitsha K1

  • Children’s home
  • Seniors

Khayelitsha Township

I vividly remember my first visit to this center. We were all greeted by smiling seniors, who went to the K1 center to enjoy each others’ company. The center manager was a kind woman named Lizzy, who explained to us how that particular center operated.

Next to the center was a daycare center run by a lady who had approached SHAWCO with the wish to start a business taking care of kids.

Skill training for women in how to land a job and keeping it was taught at this center. Many of these women are single-mothers who off course would need someone to look after their kids while they’re in class. Thereby making a next-door daycare business viable.

Khayelitsha township

Also at the center was something of a clinic, which stood unused by day. Certainly something could be done to utilize this room in a good way.

Khayelitsha K2

  • Coffee shop
  • IT – cafe
  • Wetlands

A very exciting center to be sure, with a staff that is young and open-minded.

Inside the center is a well-equipped IT-center with a projector screen. Having a IT-center poses various possibilities in it-lessons & it-business in the form of for example an it – cafe, which is largelly unheard of out in the townships. I think it would mean a great deal for a person living in a township to be able to look anything he or she might be interested in learning more about, and in that process be exposed to new things. There is a whole world outside of the townships, which can be reached through the internet.


The coffe shop is an attempt to cater to tourists coming out to the township. Right now organised trips for tourists into townships does exist, but not into Khayelitsha. We hope make Khayelitsha also available to tourists, who can get a chance to learn more about the township and what is done to improve it.

Next to the center is a huge piece of land, almost a square km, which they need someone to make something clever out of. The middle portion of the land is actual wetland, home to wildlife and therefore untouchable. Constructing something around the edges of the center wetland is our “mission”.


There are several obstacles to this. Currently there’s a tall, solid fence around, built to keep people wanting to dump garbage out. When we were there we saw several truckloads of garbage which had been dumped on the premises before the fence had been put up. If we are to do anything about the wetlands we’ll have to involve the local community and make them invest in the project, or they’ll just keep dumping garbage into it.


  • IT – center: Classes in entrepreneurship & computer skills
  • Beads: Making bracelets, necklaces and the like.

At first glance this center didn’t come off as one of the “hottest” centers to work at, but if one takes a second and third glance at the entrepreneurial computer classes and the willingness to initiate a production of bead-wear one starts to see a potential. Initially I was very sceptical to the notion of making money on bead wear, would beads be a feasible endevour in the long run? After talking some of the other people on this program I’ve managed to persuade myself into believing in beads again. There are indeed people making money on bead-work, but we will have to execute the project properly.



Kitchen in a township center

  • Bread project: Can bread making be a viable business out in the Townships?
  • School uniforms: All kids must have a uniform to go to school, and many parents pull their hair because they have to pay for expensive school wear. In Mannenberg there are a lot of people with skills in tailoring because they’ve been laid off. Can we start a growing textile industry, based on school wear?

Both Mannenberg and Kensington were previously colored townships, and if I’m not mistaken they’re both somewhat richer than the other townships. Just to explain a little more, the townships were divided into black or colored townships. White people had their own area as well. Even though the apartheid laws are gone, the communities still retain a certain predominance of colored, white or black people respectively. So, I guess there’s a tendency to “stick with their own.” Hopefully there’s a slow process of integration & acceptance happening.


  • Seniors
  • Creche
  • Music school

The Kensington center was introduced to us as the most expensive. Whoever will be working on the sustainability for this center will be doing an important job. The creche hosts something like 135 kids on a regular basis.

I remember walking into the creche (just another word for daycare center) quite vividly. Row after row of small kids sleeping soundly, and four ladies looking after them.

Also at the center was a very business oriented music school, which aimed to teach youngsters to express themselves through music and still know how to make a business out of it. Some of the artists who’s come out of the center have even traveled abroad to perform. Other artists aim to perform more locally. The music portion of the center has only been funded for three years, and after that it will have to sustain itself.

Head Office

  • Saturday School
  • Rags to Riches

The saturday school is a program that transports pupils to the University of Cape Town, and tutors them there. In addition to the scholastic benefit, there’s also the bonus of being exposed to an environment quite different from the one out in the Townships. It shouldn’t be too hard to imagine how hard it would be study for an important exam out in the townships, without any idea of where one is studying to get in. Another challenge to educating these youngsters is that they need to learn about the whole range of careers available to them.

Funding the saturday school is the Rags to Riches program. It’s a program that receives clothing donations, and then sell clothes to women who can sell them again. To many it would seem wrong to sell these donated clothes back into the townships, but it’s the only way to introduce these clothes into the market without dumping the market prizes and thereby ruining peoples’ livings.

Finally getting placed

Last sunday was the big showdown session where we, 17 of us, had to agree on our placements. After some nudging we eventually came to an agreement, and I was placed on the Nyanga center with Lars. I’m pretty excited about the placement because I see potential in the center, and Lars who I’ll be working with is a skilled level-headed guy. Tomorrow will be our first day of working out in the townships. Excitement. :)

Social entrepreneurship Oslo UCT program summer 2009

Kitchen in a township center

“This country is running away from responsibility like a headless chicken”

The title is a quote from a representative from the World Economic forum being held down here in Cape Town. I was just sitting somberly in the chair an early morning and suddenly I heard this coming from a stonefaced guy on tv. Fascinating, indeed.

Here comes a row of days at once. I haven’t had time to do proper updates. Varkey George, head of the program down here in Cape Town, has certainly been keeping us busy! Here comes a very belated account of our second day in Cape Town.

Second day

– Being shown around school & stuff

Waking up to a warm morning. The sheets feeling comfortable warm, too warm. I realize the alarm hasn’t gone off yet, probably too much excitement on my part. Well, I have to admit I don’t quite know what I’m supposed to be excited about yet because I didn’t read through the schedule very thoroughly. So… Snooze some more.

Waking up again, three minutes before the alarm is supposed to go off. I guess I really am excited. It’s still cold outside, or chilly, maybe it’s just soft morning dew clinging to my sheets. The newscast states it’s a cold and bitter winter morning in South Africa. While the TV drones on, everybody is doing their own morning ritual. Erlend has been making his papaya (paw paw in local dialect). I’m munching on my rye bread. Still a little bit too excited to be able to chew down all of it. Simon heads out for a coffee run and I hurriedly hand him some cash to buy me one. And before we know it 16 hopeful students are packed in a van, most of us with a delightful coffee in hand.

The weather proved to be just playing us a pun. Upon arriving at the University of Cape Town we’re greeted with a most spectacular view. A glance from the topmost part of UCT grants us the view of a city slowly waking up, but already teeming with life. In the horizon the morning mist is still gathered heavily. The mountains far, far away seems to grow out of them.

© Creative Commons

© Creative Commons

Climbing the steps of UCT was awe-inspiring. Old, decadent and beautiful was the words which resonated with me while I thread upon the age-old cobblestone. As our guide described to us this university was one of many layers. Up through the ages the university had always been embroiled in heated issues.

After a lenghty, but nonetheless entertaining bit of lecturing by our wise tour guide we were let loose to roam the campus. It almost proved troublesome, I’ll refrain from using the word “fatal”, but it could have gone quite bad.

See this picture?

© Lars Erik Brekne Nielsen

© Lars Erik Brekne Nielsen

Yours truly almost stepped in some puff adder. One of the most poisonous snakes around these parts. When my adrenaline rush started fading away I started remembering seeing that shape of snake at some “dangerous snake series”. That was later confirmed by a passerby we showed our picture to. What can one do, but to laugh it off somewhat worryingly?

After the rendezvous with the snake we finally reached Rhode memorial, the place we set out for. Rhode was a colonial bad guy, easily comparable to Hitler or Mousolini. However we all had to admit that he did achieve great change, regardless whether it was good or bad.

Sitting by the Rhode Memorial © Lars Erik Brekne Nielsen

Sitting by the Rhode Memorial © Lars Erik Brekne Nielsen

© Lars Erik Brekne Nielsen

Rhode Memorial © Lars Erik Brekne Nielsen

And there ends this post. I could write so much, and will, next time… ;)

Touching down in Cape Town

Early in the morning, the sun is shining, had our classmates been pulling our leg? All signs pointed towards a quite nice morning. The plane touched ground, and we went out into the moist “winter” weather.

Meeting Zuki, our awesome big sister, we had to point out that this cold weather seemed just like a chilly summer morning. I didn’t doubt though, that a change of weather would definitively bring the temperature down.

Driving through the city headed for our new home, we passed one of the Townships. Old haphazardly put up housing as far as eyes could see. For some reason the thought of festival life came to mind when I saw the rows of toilets lined up. Not surprisingly I kept that to myself, and I guess it was just a way for my head to cope.

Cape Town © Ane Baldishol Brevig

Chilling outside some houses in Cape Town © Ane Baldishol Brevig

Arriving at the house we were greeted with friendly faces who had arrived a couple of days earlier. Sadly for them, they had had rough weather up until we came and they emphasized that the temperature goes down drastically when it’s raining since the moisture gets in your clothes and achieves an even more chilling effect.

Suddenly we we’re all standing in the living room with beautiful sunshine outside and wondering about what to do. It was clearly the case that something had to be done out in this stunning weather. A group of us went to the local Spar (no kidding) to get new sim-cards for our cell phones. “Mimi’s” was our stop after that, a local coffe / drinks place. Wonderful staff. Clientele young and hip. The atmosphere was awesome and we ended up spending quite some time there. So much time that the other group went by train to the beach in Simon’s Town to spot penguins without us, quite understandable since they’ve been holed up in lousy weather for some days.

We didn’t slack of one bit as we decided to hop on a small minibus and head for downtown. It didn’t take much roaming around downtown on a Sunday before we realized that it’s out in the nature we should go. So, we started aiming for the lowest off the tops called Signal Hill. We fought hard and through numerous hidden paths we finally reached the top. And it truly was a view to behold! :) I was a little anxious about snakes and spiders, but we didn’t see any. Or had there been snakes I don’t think we would have seen them, since the shrubbery was knee height.

Discussing how to reach the top of Signal Hill

Discussing how to reach the top of Signal Hill © Ane Baldishol Brevig

So, we ended up sitting there for a while eating our lunches and talked a little about the stark differences between how much money people had in this city. From where we sat it was clearly visibly how some portions of the city was quite rich and other portions not so much. In the far distance the perimeter of townships could be seen, representing the very bottom of the economical ladder. Gleaming on another side of town was a huge football stadium being built.

Getting down from the hill was a wholly different ordeal by itself. Off course we had to try a different and perhaps more efficient way down… Walking close to the road for a while, and continuing further down alongside something that looked more like a dried out riverbed than an actual river eventually dropped us in the middle of a very rich neighborhood. After an initial anxious looking over our shoulders for angry dogs or baton wielding security forces we could let our guard a little down and concentrate on getting back to the city proper.

Closer and closer we went, going through a couple of narrow streets, which gave us the impression that we were bluntly trespassing on some person’s property and that we should expect some guards coming our way momentarily. Awesomely no angry guards showed up, and instead a cold beer quenched my thirst at Rafiki’s. Finding Rafiki’s, a very hip place, was a most random act. Simon saw the place first saying, “oh man! I’ve heard about this place. It’s awesome.”

Eventually we got home, after a very hazardous taxi ride. We off shot our landing with quite a distance, but luckily we were quite a few people.

Finally a shower from our long flights!

Sosialt entreprenørskap

Dermed kan eg erklæra sida for opna. Har lengje gått å somla med å få lagd meg ei blogg, og endeleg fekk eg fingen ut.

Det er i andledning ei reise til Cape Town, Sør-Afrika at eg har oppretta bloggen. Eg flyr til Cape Town på laurdag, og der kjem eg til å bu fram til 28. August. Det heile er organisert gjennom eit program ved Universitetet i Oslo kalla Sosialt Entreprenørskap.

Du lurar kanskje på kva SosEnt går ut på og, ei av definisjonane er:

”Å starte en organisasjon eller bedrift hvis hovedmål er å løse et sosialt problem innenfor områder som miljø, utdanning, helse, menneskerettigheter og økonomisk utvikling. Sosiale entreprenører bruker metoder og verktøy fra forretningsverdenen for å gjøre verden litt bedre. ”

Kjelde: Senter for entreprenørskap

Med eigne ord vil eg sei at det kokar ned til å, “driva berekraftig business med hovedfokus på dei fattige, og som i tillegg kjem dei til gode.”

Sosialt entreprenørskap betyr for meg som multimediadesignar altså det å søkje seg fram til uselviske konsept liknande wikipedia og couchsurfing. Med tid og stunder kan det hende at eg får til noko slikt. Har mange idear i det minste. :)

Til slutt vil eg gjerne leggje til eit klipp.Andrew Mwenda som er ein journalist frå Afrika, holdt ein inspirerande og kritisk tale vedrørande all pengestønaden som afrikanske land har motteke oppigjennom årene.

Mwenda spissformulerar mykje av det han seier, men det vert ikkje mindre autentisk med det. Det må skapast eit velfungerande økosystem for økonomisk vekst.