The world is changing fast and to keep up you need local knowledge with global context.
By Nadya Swart
When I interviewed Renshia Manuel, CEO and founder of GrowBox, (virtually, of course) – what struck me most was her sunny disposition. Here was a woman who – a mere five years ago – was an unemployed mother of four living in Hanover Park: a poverty-stricken neighbourhood in Cape Town scarred by gang violence and where most households are dependent on social grants.
A painful reality for those who live in South Africa is that you can’t move in public places without being confronted by beggars. Shacks dominate towns and cities, further highlighting the depressing reality that most people are very, very poor and even most working people don’t earn enough to make life comfortable. Our country’s history and misguided political ideology has stacked the odds against new entrants to the job market.
Manuel was one of the millions who, despite her rigorous efforts to secure employment, was simply unable to do so. The birth of most great ventures and ideas are usually sparked by a catalyst. For Manuel, it was the dire circumstances she found herself in five years ago when she couldn’t feed her children.
So, Manuel started from scratch. Literally. She took a dried up patch of ground in her backyard and she turned it into a food garden. Manuel said that: “That worked out so well that the kids – they got all excited, they’d harvest their own supper in the evenings. And then my neighbours wanted to know, how do you do that?”
This got Manuel thinking: “How can the nursery impact my community, which came back to the question of: but there’s no space for them to grow their own food, although they need to grow their own food. And that’s kind of how GrowBox was born – giving people the opportunity to grow food in spaces that they don’t have.”
Manuel’s story sparked my memory of the proverb: ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’ Because this is exactly what she does, what makes her business concept exceptional. She not only provides veggie boxes where – for every two boxes sold – one box is donated to a disadvantaged household: Manuel provides much-needed skills and training – things like catching your own seeds, soil nutrition, hot to make your own compost, how to grow vegetables from used vegetables.
These skills are taught during Food Gardening Workshops which are held every quarter. Manuel’s idea with the workshops is: “To put the beneficiary on a holistic food growing journey and not just giving them a box and saying: here, grow your own food.” In this way, she has helped many other unemployed mothers in her community by giving them the ability to take care of and feed their children.
GrowBox, in collaboration with a French enterprise – African Artists for Development – has been working tirelessly on building a wind farm in Hanover Park. She very excitedly told me of their plans to start planting this month and how so many community members had asked to help in whatever way they can.
Renshia Manuel sets a stunning example to her community: that you do not have to resign yourself to being a victim of South Africa’s chronic unemployment crisis, that courage and hard work go a long way and that helping others is just as important as helping yourself.
The country needs more people like her.
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