*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.

As mentioned in last week’s blog, I was embarking on a new journey at our Durbanville charity shop. 

The Saturday before, the staff and clients of Loaves went to Kirstenbosch.

Thirty two years prior, I had been there with my grade five class and it brought back memories. It was there that I developed a love for nature. I was enjoying every moment of the excursion, particularly as we were accompanied by two elderly people, who carried a wealth of knowledge of nature and Kirstenbosch. While in the garden, I spent time with God and asked Him to bless the new journey that I would start at the Durbanville shop.

The first Monday I travelled with two champions that were also staying at Loaves. We had to take two taxis to get to the Durbanville shop.

My time at the Durbanville shop was great, yet as time passed there were highs and lows that I would experience. Throughout my Durbanville shop journey, U-turn would reveal Romans 12 verse 15 in a practical way. The scriptures say, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” 

Twice a year, we have a bootcamp. Unlike the name says, there are no vigorous exercises. It is time for all the champions of U-turn to get together. At the bootcamp we had a talent show. I decided to do a poem. The poem’s name is “Hope lives inside of me”.  I wrote the poem while on tea break at the shop. It was loadshedding (when the national electricity supplier switches off the electricity for a certain period of time) and my cell phone network was off. I was reflecting on my life being homeless and wrote about it.

Here is an extract from the poem:

“Hope lives inside of me, when life looks like a hourglass as high as Kilimanjaro with the
Sands of the Sahara Desert running
Hope lives inside of me, when dreams are shattered and internal weeping feels eternal”

The night at the bootcamp was filled with talent. Some champions were dancing, others were singing or rapping. When it was my turn to read my poem, I could hear the encouraging screams from the audience, my fellow champions and U-turn staff members.

A few weeks after bootcamp,  I stepped over the line from Induction Stage to Growth Stage. 

Whenever a champion steps over the line whether from Induction Stage to Growth Stage; Growth Stage to Exit Stage; Exit Stage to Graduation, there is celebration. 

Usually our fellow champions and U-turn staff members would celebrate with us. Unfortunately for the two champions and myself we had our ceremony at Church House with guests watching us online, because of the COVID- 19 government regulations.

Then the jovial atmosphere changed when our shop manager called the champions that lived at Loaves to tell us that there has been a COVID-19 positive case at Loaves and that the shelter was on lockdown. We were told that when we returned to the shelter, we would be in quarantine for 10 days. 

When we got back to the shelter, reality kicked in, we would not see the outside world for 10 days. As the days progressed, more and more of the residents became ill and tested positive for COVID-19. The officials at Groote Schuur hospital sent a medical team to test everybody at Loaves. I also tested positive for COVID-19. Everybody that tested positive had to go to the Old Mutual COVID-19 Isolation Centre in Pinelands. 

We were taken with a special taxi to the COVID-19 Isolation Centre. Old Mutual Training Centre was transformed into a makeshift medical centre. The centre was established by the government to host COVID positive people who’s accommodation situation does not allow them to be isolated. There were staff members and clients from other shelters also there.  It was not a hospital, even though there were nursing staff on duty. 

For more severe cases, patients were transferred to one of the Provincial hospitals. Even though our rooms were equipped with hospital beds and cabinets, it did not feel like a hospital to me. Although for the fellow patients it felt like it.  I shared a room with 8 ladies.  

The champions that were at Loaves, our case workers phoned us on a regular basis to find out how we were. My shop manager also phoned me regularly to check up on me. 

I did not have any symptoms and for me it felt like a holiday.  Others were not as fortunate as me. Some of the Loaves clients lost their appetite, some could not take anything and some struggled with breathing. Some lost weight drastically. During that time two of our fellow clients were hospitalised. After we came back to Loaves, one of them, Wandile, sadly passed away.  We held a memorial service for him, where the fellow clients shared what Wandile meant for them.   After a few weeks in hospital the other client was discharged. We all were glad that he was back, because we were scared that we would also lose him. 

At my personal development day, I shared in my group session on the death of Wandile. The counsellor and fellow champions comforted me.

A few weeks later, on my way to work, I heard that Dean, an U-turn graduate and staff member was murdered. That morning the U-turn counsellor came for bereavement counselling for me and a fellow champion who has also worked with Dean. My first day at Durbanville charity shop, it was Dean who warmly welcomed me and taught me the foundations of retail. The counsellor took me and the other champion to a park in Durbanville, where we shared memories of Dean. The shop closed for an hour for us to watch Dean’s funeral. Later that week, the shop was closed for an hour, when U-turn held a memorial service for Dean.

Join me next week when I share on a new journey I took.