If one of the defining characteristics of poverty is a lack of food, then is sourcing food and delivering it to those in need enough? Is food enough? The Nelson Mandela Foundation’s journey with its Each1Feed1 campaign in the realm of COVID-19 emergency relief work has taught us that the starting point always has to be dignity. Dignity in the food. And dignity in the giving.
A partner which understands this principle is Legacy Ride4Hope. This is a group of professional sportswomen and men as well as fitness enthusiasts who have been supporting Mandela Day since 2018. In the first two years their contribution was a sponsored ride linking two iconic Mandela-related sites – Madiba’s Vilakazi Street home in Soweto, and the site just outside Howick where Madiba was captured by police in 1962. So, a place where Madiba spent many years with family and friends and a place marking the moment he was taken from them and incarcerated for nearly three decades. For 2020, of course, things would have to be different given the stringent COVID-19 lockdown conditions. Many Mandela Day projects foundered before this challenge, but not Legacy Ride4Hope. This year they turned the ride into a virtual one, using the FXTM Cycling platform and its associated online giving mechanism.
Recently a small group supported by Legacy Ride4Hope braved the Winter cold and the many dangers of gathering in a time of COVID-19 and headed for the Lion’s River community near Howick. They prepared thoroughly, following precautions and discussing the ways in which dignity can be maintained in food parcel delivery spaces. For them, this was not an act of kindness; it was a battle in the war on hunger. During the activation they encountered 200 families in deep distress, providing to each of them basic food supply for three months. One of the beneficiaries was six-month old Rea, who came with her mother to receive a parcel for their family. She represents what Each1Feed1 and Legacy Ride4Hope are all about. Meeting immediate emergency needs can provide a lifeline to a vulnerable person and give them the chance they need to make a dignified future for themselves.
The threat of COVID-19 has mobilised governments and societies around the world. In ways that the annual global death-toll from starvation and malnutrition-related illnesses has failed to do, despite the fact that many millions die annually from these causes. Here in South Africa we see the same pattern. How is it possible that there has been no emergency response to the fact that for some years one in four six year olds in the country suffer from stunting caused by malnutrition? Or that an estimated nine million South Africans go to sleep each night hungry? It is time to do something about this equally damaging pandemic.
Both Each1Feed1 and Legacy Ride4Hope understand this challenge. It is essential that emergency relief measures be turned into sustainable programmes addressing the deep systemic causes of food insecurity. Children like Rea in Lion’s River deserve more than a lifeline. They have a right to the dignity which hunger undermines. They have a right to health and to opportunity. And they deserve at least the chance of thriving. Until we get this right, riding when one cannot ride, like Ride4Hope, will be essential in the continuing fight against poverty and inequality.