Albertina Ngqame, fondly known as MaYoli spends her days working her way through a scholarship in permaculture; and her life’s ambition is summed up in a poignant observation gleaned from these studies.
“On the mountain, there are many kinds of plants. If you walk there, you will see them side by side. Some of them have root systems that hold water. Others don’t,” she says.
“Now those plants, the ones whose roots hold the water. They don’t look at their neighbours and say ‘I don’t like you – you are not like me’. They just share their water. So all the plants benefit.”
MaYoli, 65, looks me in the eye. “I want to be like those plants,” she says.
Her pure desire stems from living in the coalface of a reality that would fell many.
MaYoli works in The Hive, in Muizenberg. Her work hours are filled with study and sowing seeds and tending to plants, working alongside an assortment of artists and volunteers and people whose lives are dedicated to the greater good of their communities.
But she lives in Vrygrond and the area has challenges. And because MaYoli is HIV-positive, and she knows pain, she also knows how to help others who are battling with it.
Drugs are the main scourge in her community, MaYoli says, but she hesitates. She definitely doesn’t condone the behaviour she sees. But she knows where it stems from.
“People have nothing to put on their tables.”
“There is no work, no work means no food for their families,” she says. And no work and no food spells a very bad situation for the community members who are HIV- positive, and don’t have food to take their medication with.
MaYoli knows this because she is more than a grandmother who happens to be studying permaculture.
She has lived in the area for more than 17 years, and she knows the community. She spent five years as a PR councillor for the area; and even though that is no longer her role, residents knows, they can call on her for help. And they do: for everything from reporting problems to the City or how to apply for an ID book or information on social grants they may be eligible for.
“My door is open 24/7, and people come. I don’t get paid for this, but these are my people. I can help them. God has given me the knowledge; so I share what I know. I do what I can,” she says.
And after 17 years, all MaYoli can see is that more is needed.
“HIV/Aids is a big problem. I know the clinic can give medical help, people can be diagnosed and they can get their ARV’s. But you see, ARVs are drugs. You need to eat when you take them. And so many of the people in my community don’t have that meal,” she says.
She pauses, her face filled with concern. “I want to set up an NPO which will feed the people who need to take their ARVs,” she says.
“If they don’t eat, they don’t take their meds, then they get sick. They die, and then their children are alone and vulnerable to lives of crime – as both victims and eventually – perpetrators. And there are too many challenges already,” she says.
She speaks about how easy it is for drug dealers to manipulate the situation and offer people quick but empty promises of help-and a line of income.
“I am working towards registering my own NPO. I know who is in need. I want to help the existing structures at the clinic. Too many times people want to re-invent the wheel. I have thought a lot about what my community’s needs and jobs and food are hand in hand needs,” she says.
MaYoli says she has been able to treat her HIV and keep it in check.
“It is not a death sentence if you take your ARVs properly. But you need to eat when you do, and so we must give our people the chance to fight for their own health. When they are eating and taking their ARVs then they can work, and contribute to society,” she says.
“I am a living example that HIV can be managed,” MaYoli says. “I have an angel in my life who encouraged me to be tested, and then walked me through the whole process and reassured me that it is better to know and treat it than live in fear not knowing, and get sick,” she says.
Her “angel” is ward councillor Felicity Purchase. “Without Felicity I would not be here now, I would not be healthy, I would not be able to help my community,” MaYoli says.
MaYoli is in the process of procuring a container which she can use as a base in her community to get her NPO started.
“We do have people in the community who work there: but at 5pm they close up and go home. They don’t live there, and they don’t know who is in genuine need. Not like those of us who spend our lives there,” MaYoli says.
If you are able to help MaYoli in any way with her dream to set up her NPO and feed the neediest in her community, contact her on 073 494 7945.