*Hi, I’m Cathy. I’m a champion of the U-turn phase 3 work-readiness programme. My passion is communication and I’m part of the U-turn communication team. Every week I will be writing a blog post sharing my personal experience on this programme, to give you a window into the experience of being a champion on the U-turn programme.

In last week’s blog I shared my travels to a second phase shelter named Loaves and Fishes, and my first day at the U-turn charity shop in Mitchells Plain.

The mornings were rushed at Loaves. When the bells rang at six thirty in the morning, we had about 10 minutes to get ready. The ladies’ dorm monitor advised me to put on old tracksuit pants, wash my face,brush my teeth and do the rest after breakfast. 

At breakfast each table was responsible to fetch their own tray, which had a loaf of bread, margarine, jam and peanut butter. The house father or mother would usually ask one of the clients to pray before we’d eat our breakfast. Breakfast usually included maize porridge (otherwise known as “pap”), oats or Weetbix. Every Wednesday morning before breakfast the CEO of Loaves would give us a short Bible message.

After breakfast I would prepare for work. I would travel with two U-turn champions who also stayed at Loaves, with the bus to the Mitchells Plain shop. In the morning we’d start with devotions at the shop. The shop manager would  give each champion an opportunity to lead devotions. After the champion had shared the message, we as champions would reflect on what it meant to us. We’d also share how we we’re feeling and if there was anything troubling us. Sometimes one of the champions would have a bad day but were encouraged by their fellow champions and the shop manager. After devotions, we would clean the shop.

At the shop we had our regular customers who would lighten up our day. There was a widower who would visit us on a regular basis. He liked a specific type of shirt and shorts. When he came in, one of the champions would take him to our short pants and shirts section to show him the newest stock that had arrived. We would also help him select clothes from our bonanza bin. In the bonanza bin, all the clothing is R 10. The gentlemen would spend time in the shop chatting with us. If one of the champions was on training or maybe at another shop that day, then he would want to know where they are and we had to send his greetings to them. 

We also had a customer, who would buy in bulk from the bonanza bin on a regular basis. She would also buy toys for her two nieces, who she sometimes would bring to the shop for them to select their own toys. We also had a special little customer, who was perhaps three years old. He would visit the therapist next door to the shop on a weekly basis and after each therapy session his mother would buy him a toy at our shop. 

In the afternoon, after the shop closed for business for the day, we had to rush to get the bus. The two champions that were with me would rush ahead to stop the bus and ask the bus driver to wait for me as I took a bit more time to reach the bus. When I would enter the bus, I could see by the look the bus driver was giving me that she was not impressed with me but I would thank her, and walk to my seat. Because it is quite a drive from Mitchells Plain to Observatory, I would usually listen to music or watch a sermon on my phone.

When we got off at the bus stop we would make our way back to Loaves, down Rochester Road. The closer we got to Loaves, the more I would smell the fresh baked bread from the bread factory nearby.

After arriving back at Loaves, we would have our supper. Depending on if my name was on the duty list, I would have to do my duties after work. It could be cleaning the ladies dorm, or the bathroom and toilet. 

Depending on the day, it could also be an Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) or Narcotic Anonymous (NA) meeting in the evening. We had to attend three meetings a week. Even though I have never used or abused alcohol or drugs, I still had to attend the meetings. I felt like an intruder, that broke into a sacred fragile space that I have no right to be in, but yet I attended. 

In my first AA meeting I shared that even though I might not have an alcohol or drug addiction, that I had to work on the things that caused my homelessness. I held myself accountable to that commitment and on training day I worked through boundaries with my counsellor.

On a Sunday we used to have online church due to Covid restrictions, which all the clients had to attend. I used to attend the online church and then go to my own church. Sunday after church in Cape Town, I would roam the streets of the city for some me-time. I would then go back to Loaves and take my Sunday  afternoon nap.

I spent a few months at Mitchell’s Plain shop. My personal development day was on a Friday. One Friday, I was informed that I was being asked to come back to the Durbanville shop and that I would start that coming Monday. I did not have time to say goodbye to my Mitchells Plain shop family, because the next day I was going with some of the clients and staff of Loaves to Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. The Mitchells Plain shop manager, video-called me and I spoke to my “family”. I felt sad that I had to leave the Mitchells Plain shop, we were a close knit family. 

Joined me next week as I share about my trip to Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden and my experiences while working at the Durbanville shop.