[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]A small gesture can change a person’s life.  This was the case for Natasha Njingama. She’d been living on the streets of Cape Town for eight years.  Each day, she’d venture off with her shopping trolley, collecting paper and cardboard from bins and businesses around Greenpoint and Seapoint to sell for recycling.  She says, “We called it mining, digging for diamonds.”

One day she passed the Radisson Hotel, just as a guest was leaving the hotel with the remains of his meal in a box.  He gave her the leftover food, along with a U-turn voucher which she gladly received.

Natasha didn’t know what the voucher was, but read the information on it and found that it entitled her to food and an item of clothing.  The next day she found the U-turn shop in Long Street.  She went inside and asked them to redeem the voucher for clothing and food.

Everyone working in a U-turn charity shop is a “Life Change champion” in the final phase of the programme. The shop assistance explained that the voucher could only be redeemed at the Powerhouse, U-turn’s Service Centre in Claremont and then told her their stories of how they had kicked their old habits and turned their live around after visiting the Powerhouse.  They explained how they were now working in the shop as part of the Life Change programme learning new skills and gaining work experience.

Initially, Natasha was disappointed, she’d hoped for clothing and food. But the shop assistants had sparked a vision of change in her mind.

She says, “They told me beautiful news because I wanted to get off the streets but just didn’t know how to do that. I was not happy with my life, living on the streets, washing in rock pools down at the beach, feeling unsafe and very cold in winter.”

Natasha in her role as shop assistant at one of U-turn’s charity shops

Two weeks later, despite losing the voucher, she gave her trolley away and made her way to the Powerhouse in Claremont.

Again she was frustrated – the programme had already started for the day, however, a U-turn staff member asked her to come back at 2pm to earn a voucher through “ragging”.  Ragging is one of the jobs U-turn asks people to take part in if they don’t have a voucher to access services. It helps build a culture of accountability, allows staff to spend more time getting to know people, and involves cutting up damaged or stained secondhand clothing. When possible, the rags are sold as cleaning cloths to help raise funds for the organization.

Natasha returned, received three vouchers for ragging and a replacement voucher for the one she had lost.  She was able to exchange these for clothes and food.  U-turn also secured her a bed in a nearby shelter.

Today, Natasha is a Life Change champion working in one of U-turn’s charity shops, turning her own life around and becoming a much loved member of the U-turn team. Her journey and story help others facing similar challenges to follow her lead.

A chance encounter, and a small gesture, where the catalyst that enabled Natasha to make difficult decisions to change her life despite hurdles and frustrations.

Please commit to giving responsibility to people looking for help on the streets. Put them in touch with long term rehabilitation and support services through a U-turn voucher.

Find out more: homeless.org.za/vouchers

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