Ladles of Love ~ Making a Difference One Scoop at a Time!

 “When you look upon another human being and feel great love toward them, or when you contemplate beauty in nature and something within you responds deeply to it, close your eyes for a moment and feel the essence of that love or that beauty within you, inseparable from who you are, your true nature.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

My alarm was screaming at me to wake up. I could hear the wind outside and I already knew that it was forecast to be a grey, wet and cold day in Cape Town. Twenty minutes later my alarm was screaming at me again. If I didn’t get up now I was never going to get out of bed. It was early on Sunday morning and all I wanted to do was sleep in – it was the perfect morning for such a thing.

But I had other plans. I had agreed to volunteer, along with some friends, at a place called Freedom Farm Informal Settlement. Through a friend of mine I had come to hear of a woman named Stephanie, who started her own catering company and who has since extended it to help those in need and once a month on a Sunday morning, irrespective of the weather, she goes out to Freedom Farm and cooks up a storm for the residents.

Early Sunday morning, I met up with my friend and we headed out to Freedom Farm Informal Settlement in Belhar.

Early Sunday morning, I met up with my friends and we headed out to Freedom Farm Informal Settlement in Belhar.

Freedom Farm is an area made up of corrugated metal, plywood, sheets of plastic and whatever else can be used to create a shelter. These structures become homes for people who cannot afford to live anywhere else and as with many informal settlements these communities lack basics necessities such a proper sanitation, a safe water supply and electricity.

Simple lego blocks lined up in the window. A few toys for one of the children at Freedom Farm to play with. This 'shack' has windows, something many others there don't.

Simple lego blocks lined up in the window. A few toys for one of the children at Freedom Farm to play with. This ‘shack’ is part of a wendy house and has windows, something many others shacks there don’t have.

Sister Rachel, a resident of Freedom Farm, is where everything happens on these Sunday’s once a month. Sister Rachel, as she is affectionately known, looks after the community and everyone comes to her for help, advice or just a chat. She is like the mamma of this big family. Beautiful curls frame her face and she has a smile to warm the coldest day. Outside a fire burns and a pot of water sits on a grid above the flames as residents wait for the water to boil. A young boy pops out of his shack every now and again to feed more wood to the fire. The water takes forever to boil. It is a stark reminder how easy it is for me to turn on my kettle in the morning and make myself a cup of tea and in the same vein it reminds me just how easy it is to turn on the tap and get hot water for a shower or to wash my dishes from the dinner I just cooked in my oven because I have electricity.

There is no electricity so residents boil their water on open fires.

There is no electricity so residents boil their water on open fires.

No grass, swings, or slide or pretty flowers, just sand, weeds, puddles and mud make up the children's playground.

No grass, swings, or slides or pretty flowers, just sand, weeds, puddles and mud make up the children’s playground.

A huge stainless steel pot filled with potatoes and cabbage begins cooking. Some ladies of the community are peeling and cutting up the potatoes and as they finish they bring it through to us and we add it to the pot. Usually the big pot, that will feed over 300 people is placed on the fire as it cooks quicker but today, because of the rain, we are working under a piece of corrugated sheeting to protect us from the rain and the pot sits on a small gas burner instead. We add water occasionally and stir the food around with a big wooden stick so that it doesn’t stick and burn to the bottom of the pot.

Stirring the pot making sure nothing burns or sticks.

Stirring the pot making sure nothing burns or sticks.

We have just started the potatoes and we turn to find a young girl named Josie walking up to us with her bowl in her hand. She is about 2 years old. She is a beautiful, shy little girl. Mostly looking down and not responding to the conversation we are trying to make with her. She stands there looking down, with her bowl clutched to her chest, waiting for the food to be ready.

The harsh reality that she is simply hungry pulls at every heart string you have.

Josie, one of the tiny residents of Freedom Farm, who came so early all she could do was wait for the food to be ready.

Josie, one of the tiny residents of Freedom Farm, who came so early all she could do was wait for the food to be ready.

Soon, other children from the community start walking up to Sister Rachel’s house, all holding their bowls or ‘bakkies’ (slang for container) in their hands. As they arrive, Josie starts coming out of her shell and talking to us and to her friends. The children coming are all ages and all of them are looking forward to this meal of rice, potatoes, vegetables and mince. It is most likely the most nourishing meal they have had all month.

The children’s clothes are scruffy, torn and grubby and their faces are smeared with dirt. Stephanie tells us that most of these children don’t know what a proper bath is. Despite all of this, these children are so beautiful and I want to photograph them all. With each photo I take I recall it up on the screen again and show the photo to the children. They love it, squealing with delight and laughing as they look at the photos of themselves. These children are beyond precious.

Josie didn't say much at first, she just held out her bowl to us, hoping the food was ready but she was really early and we could do nothing but ask her to wait a little while.

Josie, who arrived first,  didn’t say much and she just held out her bowl to us, hoping the food was ready but she was really early and we could do nothing but ask her to wait a little while.

The beautiful children of Freedom Farm.

The beautiful children of Freedom Farm.

Another one arrives with his 'bakkie' in his hands, eager for a hot meal.

Another one arrives with his ‘bakkie’ in his hands, eager for a hot meal.

The rain begins to fall again, the puddles in the mud growing ever bigger. The corrugated sheeting above us has holes in it and the water drips down onto us, no one is completely sheltered from the rain. It is another sad reminder of what communities living in areas like this have to go through in winter as the Cape winter rains begin to fall to the ground, turning the ground to mud and their shacks leak making everything wet and the air in their ‘homes’ damp. Some of the children who have arrived are running around in shorts and a t-shirt; they have nothing warmer to wear. Some of the children are barefoot; the cold doesn’t seem to bug them though – at least not yet. It has become a way of life for them, this is what they know.

Bowls of the children who arrived early are lined up as they excitedly play around us.

Bowls of the children who arrived early are lined up as they excitedly play around us.

Me with the young children of Freedom Farm Informal Settlement ~ such beautiful and certainly feisty souls!

Me with the young children of Freedom Farm Informal Settlement ~ such beautiful and certainly feisty souls!

The cute kiddies of Freedom Farm.

The cute kiddies of Freedom Farm.

The crowd is getting larger; more children are arriving and adults too. Bakkies of all shapes and sizes are grasped in their hands, eager for food for themselves and their families. We begin to add the vegetables and meat and we wait a little longer.

Finally, it’s time to start dishing up. We pass the ladles around amongst us as everyone from the community starts lining up, their bowls ready to be filled. A ladle of rice and a ladle of meat, veggies and potatoes. It smells really good and it is steaming hot, perfect for a cold winters day like today. One by one the residents of Freedom Farm hold out their ‘bakkies’ to be filled. Words of thank you and bless you are whispered from the lips of those holding the bowls. They are incredibly grateful for this one meal that comes once a month and with each dish I hand back to the empty hands waiting to be filled, I count my blessings. I have so many.

Chef's jackets on, we were certainly looking the part and ready to serve the community.

Chef’s jackets on, we were certainly looking the part and ready to serve the community.

Time seems to pass so incredibly quickly and soon everyone has been given a meal. The adults seem to go back to their shelters which they call home and most of the children sit around Sister Rachel’s “yard” and eat their meals. Some children start coming back for seconds. We gladly fill their bowls again.

The kiddies sitting outside on cold, wet stones eating their warm meal.

The kiddies sitting outside on cold, wet stones eating their warm meal.

These kids were clever and chose to sit by the warmth of the open fire.

These kids were clever and chose to sit by the warmth of the open fire.

From the moment I arrived, my heart expanded some more with each child and adult that stepped up grateful for the meal they were about to receive. It is not the first time I have been in an informal settlement and it certainly won’t be the last. Each time I am reminded of how truly blessed I am. Doing work like this makes my heart sing. The rewards are everything I have written above and for me, the blessings just keep rolling in.

One woman has made this all possible. Stephanie Benjamin, who loves cooking, started her own business called Steph’s Kitchen. It wasn’t long before she started turning her passion for cooking into something even bigger. She started Steph’s Ladels of Love and now every month, no matter what the weather, she’s out at Freedom Farm feeding the community with her big heart and her big stainless steel pot. The donations of food don’t always come easy and often she is turned away when asking for sponsorship. On the months where the donations do not come in, she feeds the residents of Freedom Farm out of her own pocket and with what volunteers can help contribute. If you would like to follow the work that Stephanie does, you can find her on Facebook by clicking Steph’s Ladels of Love and if you are in a position to donate old clothes, toys, blankets, shoes or anything that you no longer need, Stephanie will gladly distribute it to the residents of Freedom Farm. Likewise, if you would are in a position to donate food towards these Sunday lunches once a month or if you would like to make a once-off donation, Stephanie can be contacted as follows:

Stephanie Benjamin
Mobile: 072 211 0301
Email: stephaniebenjamin01@gmail.com
Facebook: Steph’s Ladels of Love

All donations are greatly appreciated by Stephanie and by all those she helps clothe and feed.

Stephanie, the woman who makes it all possible, with two of the residents of Freedom Farm.

Stephanie, the woman who makes it all possible, with two of the residents of Freedom Farm.

This gorgeous little boy with a full tummy, smiles for the camera and my heart pours out love. Too beautiful for words.

This gorgeous little boy with a full tummy, smiles for the camera and my heart pours out love. Too beautiful for words.

There are no words to describe the unconditional love that takes over when you do something for someone else, more so when they are not able to return the favour. For me, it grows as I strive to do what I love, each and every single day – something that I once again witnessed with my whole heart and soul this past weekend.

It is truly beyond beautiful just how much one ladle can dish out so much love!

~ All Photos By Me ~

 

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