TFGmedia’sDylon Phillips sits down with StreetSmart South Africa Chairperson Melanie Burke.
You’ve just finished a wine tasting with a group of your closest friends, or you’ve enjoyed a succulent steak at one of South Africa’s top-notch restaurants. But did you know that your blissful foodie excursions could greatly enrich the lives of vulnerable children in the surrounding communities in the Western Cape, on the Garden Route or in Gauteng? If you’re not yet making the connection, it’s quite simple: By eating out at participating establishments, you are aiding the efforts of the public benefit and non-profit organisation StreetSmart South Africa. When you’re at one of the participating restaurants, accommodations or wine tasting venues, you’ll see a little StreetSmart SA branded card on your table or in your room. This means that a voluntary R5 will automatically be added to your bill. Every cent raised goes directly to StreetSmart beneficiaries because all operational costs are sponsored. If you would like to donate more, or nothing at all, be sure to let your server know when you ask for the bill.
Established in 2005 by Margi Biggs under the patronage of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, the organisation is run by a volunteer board of directors, all of whom represent members of the business, civil society, hospitality and tourism sectors. Currently holding the reigns is chairperson Melanie Burke, who will be giving us all the inside information.
What is StreetSmart SA all about?
Nationally, we have 100 fundraising partners who have embraced the concept. The funds raised in your local area go to organisations that run education, skills training and family re- unification programmes for street children, as well as children at risk of living and working on the streets.StreetSmart ensures that every cent donated by your local partners directly benefits the local beneficiaries, allowing you to make a contribution towards the efforts to normalise the lives of vulnerable children in your local area.
Tell us about how StreetSmart has grown?
The problem of children living and begging on our streets is growing. While the true extent of the number of children living on the streets in South Africa is unknown, there are at least 250 000 children of school-going age who are not at school, 2.8 million orphaned children and 11.6 million children living below the poverty line, according to the South African Child Gauge 2018 by the Child Institute at the University of Cape Town. Starting from humble beginnings in June 2005 with ten Cape Town restaurants raising R1 644, StreetSmart has since grown to 100 partner stablishments and has disbursed over R1 million per year for the past 6 years to beneficiaries. Expanding steadily from year to year, StreetSmart is currently represented in 12 towns and cities in the Western Cape, Garden Route and Gauteng.
Tell us about the successful impact StreetSmart has had on local communities
We have received numerous stories of how children and their primary caretakers’s lives have been changed. One case that comes to mind is that of a boy who began attending school for the first time in his life at the age of nine. When he was placed in foster care, he was enrolled at the local primary school in grade 2. Although this was age-appropriate, it was obviously not academically suited to him. To ensure he got the support he needed, he was selected to attend the StreetSmart Aftercare Programme to develop his reading and writing skills. Seven months later, he is able to write and is excelling in mathematics.A child is never helped in isolation, so the impact of StreetSmart is seen in the families and communities where we are active.
Has StreetSmartbeen facing any challenges?
We have found the hospitality industry and general public very supportive and generous during the past 15 years.The one constant challenge we face is that the hospitality sector is very sensitive to the economic climate in South Africa, and this can impact whether people dine out, take vacations or visit wineries. When people go out less, they have less opportunity to donate to StreetSmart.
Any upcoming projects that StreetSmart is currently working on?
While our restaurant campaign will always remain our flagship project, we have also started to raise funds in the accommodation and wine sectors to give locals and visitors alike an opportunity to make a contribution to the lives of children at risk. We hope to increase the footprint of StreetSmart from the current 12 areas to many more across South Africa so that each area can make a difference in the lives of local street children and reintegrate them into their local communities. In addition to raising funds, StreetSmart also educates the public to give responsibly; placing money into the hands of a child on the streets keeps that child on the streets. We’re working to encourage the support of organisations such as ours who enable real change in the lives of vulnerable children.
What does it mean to you to be able to help transform the lives of these children?
I grew up in a similar community to the ones StreetSmart serves. My father died when I was nine years old, so my three siblings and I were raised by our mother. These unplanned circumstances could have resulted in my chance to live a viable life being threatened.So for me, it is an incredible personal privilege to contribute to creating viable futures for the most vulnerable in our society. Nelson Mandela said: ‘There is no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.’ It is the responsibility of all of us to make sure that we live in a way that enhances the lives and futures of our children.
Words: Dylon Phillips | Photography: Courtesy Images