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Insights: Life Coping
April 19, 2011

Life Coping

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"My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together."

- Bishop Desmond Tutu

Let me start by offering readers my best wishes for a wonderful upcoming Easter break. There will be no issue of Insights next week as I take a little time out from writing to let the typing fingers recover!

Cappuccino connection

So full is my business life right now that my wife Jenni had to tempt me to my favorite cappuccino at a nearby restaurant to get time without distractions to talk about a few issues of real importance to her!

As we sat in the balmy Cape weather, breathing in the sea air, Jenni described her burning need to assist our domestic helper and her family to upgrade their living accommodation.

Like many, I suspect, who are in a position to employ part- or full time domestic help, we feel some anguish about the huge disparity in conditions, between the home and place of work, that so many of these people face every day.

An amazing lady

Zoleka is an amazing lady and person. She is friendly, soft-spoken, hard working, honest and with an eye for detail that continually surprises us. She and her currently unemployed husband have two beautiful young girls, one of whom Jenni loves to babysit whenever she can.

Zoleka looks after our house as if it were her own but that's where the comparison ends.

Nice ... and not so nice

Our home is by no means palatial but it is a very comfortable modern, spacious, three bedroomed home with many nice extra features including wonderful views over the local sea and mountains.

By contrast, Zoleka's home is tiny, with just one room that has been divided to create separate kitchen and bedroom areas - the latter cramped by a double bed that has to be shared by the entire family. All in all there is not enough room to swing a mouse, let alone a cat. There is no running water and the ablutions are separate, outside and shared with other families.

To make things worse, she has been given a few months notice to vacate by her landlord! Finding alternative accommodation in the overcrowded township is nothing short of a nightmare.

Zoleka is a proud and very competent mother but she is an 'upmarket' shack dweller in a sprawling township that coexists with an area that boasts some of the most attractive real estate that the Cape has to offer.

A common feature

Sadly, this is a common feature of life for a great many people in South Africa, plenty of whom do not have the 'luxury' of a reasonable job and related income that Zoleka has to look forward to each month.

Caught in a trap

It's common cause to believe that it is the sole responsibility of our government to do something to improve the living conditions of people like Zoleka and no doubt much is being done - but as Jenni so passionately pointed out, people of the caliber of Zoleka really want to take responsibility for upgrading their own lives - it's just that they find themselves caught in a trap. And they need help.

We did some research to find that property in township areas is disproportionately expensive. Vacant land where we live, with beautiful views and good services might sell for around 1,000 per square metre. For Zoleka to consider purchasing a plot in the overcrowded area where she lives - and where services are very poor - she would pay about the same.

For low income earners in the townships to have any chance of affording the mortgage repayments on a small plot of 100 - 200m2 (that's if they can come up with the deposit) they have little option other than to find multiple tenants to shoehorn onto the land in makeshift shacks and huts. The overcrowding gets worse and the provision of basic services becomes even more strained.

Life coping interventions

Back to Jenni and our chat.

Jenni looked me straight in the eye...

"You know how excited I am about the industry we work in, Bill. Life coaching is just brilliant for helping people to lead empowered lives, living to their full potential - but for people like Zoleka life coaching is irrelevant. They need 'life coping' interventions to help extract them from the relative poverty traps they are in and improve their lives to a point where life coaching is even relevant."

The challenge

This certainly got me thinking. Jenni challenged me to help her find a way to start a charitable business, perhaps using some of the proceeds from life coaching and/or donations from well meaning people in the industry and beyond to start 'life coping' initiatives aimed at overcoming the poverty trap.

Jenni is determined to get started by doing something to make a difference in the life of Zoleka and her family by raising funds to help put ownership of a very modest property within their reach. In so doing, she hopes to create a model for assisting many other families like Zoleka's.

I've pledged to give thought to how my own company, New Insights Africa, can assist in making this inspiring vision a reality.

I'll be sharing more in future issues of Insights but if you'd like to help or have any constructive ideas please feel free to comment on this edition of Insights by clicking the 'stickie' image at the top.

Jenni and I would love to hear from you.

Till after Easter...

Warm regards,


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