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BY CATHY BURNS · MARKETING LEAD FOR AFRICA · SOUTH AFRICA
For many years, Cathy Burns has dedicated her personal time to taking care of kids in need of a basic meal a day and the very bare essentials. Cathy “adopted” the Refengkotso Day Care Centre, where they provide hot meals, water, hygiene, and education programs for kids, their families, and teachers in the extremely deprived community. She played a key role in ensuring a safe environment for the children and has collaborated with organizations like Rise Against Hunger to ensure they get at least one hot meal a day.
As a little girl, I grew up on a small farm in a poor community in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. One of the things that really stood out for me was the way people treated and cared for each other.
It was more than just material things but being there for each other, it was about sharing what we had. Giving back and sharing became a core part of me, and it was obvious that I needed to do something that would impact people’s lives.
As an adult, I moved to Johannesburg and joined many groups to see how I could make a difference. I was clear that it should not be about giving money and then simply walking away. I wanted to play a role in projects that were continuous and where I could see a change.
More than 5 years ago, my husband and I left the city life and moved into a small town called Deneysville. That’s where I saw the opportunity to be an impactful part of the community. We adopted a small daycare center called Nyakallo Day Care Centre.
Doing the Best with What We Had
The center was dilapidated with no running water. It was not a safe environment for the children. The center housed just over forty kids between the age of 3 months and 6 years and came from homes struggling to provide the basic necessities for them.
These kids were left at the center to be cared for while their families went out to seek work. The challenge was that the center was a nonprofit organization and barely making ends meet.
We began by providing them with food parcels and essentials like face cloths, soap, towels, and blankets for the very cold days. We also engaged with Lego for Education, who managed to provide the center with Lego blocks to stimulate the kids during the day.
Most importantly, I made an effort to spend some time with the children — I was able to do this with my Time2Give volunteer time off.
Two years ago, I got a chance to give back even more. I worked with a few government departments who were keen to provide us with a safe environment. This way, we could house more daycare centers in the community.
The government granted us a new building and the Refengkotso Day Care Center was born.
My dreams were coming true before my eyes. I knew that although we could not promise to fix all the children’s problems, we could promise that the kids will not have to face everything alone.
I had no idea how we were going to tackle the new challenge, but I knew that we had to do something quickly. Just over 120 children needed us — the challenge was on. I was ready!
This center was better equipped than the previous one I adopted, as it was a solid building with running water, electricity, and a safe haven for our children. The children were delighted with their new home and there was hope.
A Network of Support
I could not do this without support from Cisco. I collaborated with many people within Cisco, including some executive teams. Everyone was absolutely supportive.
Linda Davis, Karen Walker’s executive assistant, introduced me to Rise Against Hunger team in South Africa. Our key focus was to make sure that the children had one hot meal per day.
With the help of Cisco employees and the parents and staff at the center, we’ve packaged 50,000 meals in two years! We arranged various days for us to pack the meals for the children, which are delivered every month to the center.
My focus now is to continue to take care of this center and to build education programs for the children, parents, and teachers in this extremely deprived community.
Today no child goes home with a hungry tummy. The kids are protected and stimulated. The environment is a happy place. My heart warms up seeing the beautiful smiles on the children’s faces, and they inspire me to keep up my work.
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