Mandela Day Fiesta 2017

By Kelsey Holmes, Research Intern at Street Sleeper

We had the great pleasure of participating in our second Mandela Day Fiesta with Souper Troopers this year, and what a special day it turned out to be, held together by kindness, music, sunshine, dance and a wonderful spirit of togetherness.

The Sunday fiesta took place at The Carpenter’s Shop and word must have spread fast across the city centre’s homeless community as when I arrived to set up there was already a large, bubbly group of guests surrounding the gate. As I entered the venue, I was immediately swept up in a flurry of activity – large pots of tasty soup, jam filled sandwiches and 300 beautifully decorated cupcakes being piled into the kitchen while a second group of volunteers decorated and arranged the outdoor space. Once the food was all prepared, the balloons blown up, games laid out and volunteer barbers ready, the gates opened. Each person received a name tag and badge at the door, signalling a wonderful opportunity to interact with new people and make a few friends along the way.

As people started coming in, I noticed a few familiar faces from volunteering at the Service Dining Rooms. I watched a group of adult men and women head straight for the colouring book table. Their faces shone with excitement and joy as colour filled the page, some striking a proud pose next to each of their artworks. It was a beautiful reminder that we are never too old to rekindle the carefree joy of our childhoods, even after facing so many hardships through life.

The free barber service, kindly run by homeless volunteers, was attracting the attention of all the men with young and old queuing up to make use of the service. It was awesome to see a regular volunteer, Phinius Sebatsane, get involved by being a stand-in barber at the end of the day. This is where I found Israel, more commonly known to me as Madala, whose company I’ve grown to love while volunteering at the Service Dining Rooms. Madala is always cheerful and willing to help, even through his tough circumstances. When I asked him what would make him happy, he mentioned his sons finishing school and a new pair of shoes. So, I’ve made his ‘new pair of shoes’ wish my personal mission!

People rushed to be first in line for the much-awaited lunch – a hearty veggie soup, sweet jam sandwiches and a delicious cupcake. People could barely wait for seconds! After lunch, the festivities continued. Kids, adults and volunteers were showing off their soccer skills while young stars like Xolani took on a volunteer at the games table. Men and women were being pampered with face paint while ladies had their nails painted. A big group of guests had gathered around the sound system, showing off their dance moves with seemingly boundless energy.

My favourite part of the day was reading the messages people wrote in the Dignity Portrait Booth, all of which seemed to carry a message of positivity. This made a big impression on me, as many homeless people have faced more adversity than we could imagine, yet still manage to carry themselves with hope for a brighter future. I wish I had the space to show you all of the portraits here but do yourself a favour, and check out the full album on our Facebook page – they will make your day!

The day ended with handing out a generous collection of donations to all the guests. This included toiletry packs, blankets, beanies, scarfs and Street Sleeper survival sleeping bags. A massive shout out goes to all those who volunteered their time or made a donation – we couldn’t have done it without you!