Gladys Zulu is up at sparrows every morning hard at work firing up her oven and putting in the first batch of bread to bake. The aroma of freshly-baked loaves soon fills the air and these are swiftly loaded up and dispatched to the vendors/feeding schemes and local communities to be served with the day’s meal.

Gladys – based in Marianhill – is the proud owner of a bread-making oven donated by The Iqraa Trust – and is part of Celebrate Life SA’s oven-projects scheme. “I know what it’s like to be hungry and worry about when I will get my next meal,” Gladys says. “Now that I am standing on my own two feet it is my chance to give back to the community and help others.”

Gladys had been baking cakes at home before Cherry Armstrong, executive director of Celebrate Life SA – and her non-profit organization – earmarked her as a recipient for an oven. “I can now bake bread, snowballs, Chelsea buns, rolls and pizzas and supply these to my community.” Gladys is one of nine bakers who – through the assistance of the NPO – man their wood-fired ovens every day – churning out four loaves of bread every 25 minutes. Celebrate Life has supplied ovens in KwaZulu Natal since 2014, each providing an income to three people per oven (on average), and the numbers are growing with more sponsorship coming in.

The micro-bakeries are distributed by Mama Mimi’s, an organization founded in 2012, which implements the programme within rural communities throughout South Africa. Celebrate Life is hoping to install “cells” of ovens in communities (which consist of 20 ovens in each area) Armstrong explains. “For this, we have a mobile full-time mentor on the ground checking on each baker daily to ensure s/he is baking correctly and putting out the required amount of loaves a day.” Bakers are taught how to run a business, manage their income, place orders and basic skills like cleaning their oven. Once up-and-running the bakers sell their bread to family and neighbours at a substantially lower price than that which is brought into the area for sale. “Celebrate Life’s objectives are to establish township entrepreneurs and – through ongoing support and mentorship – keep them sustainable,” explains Armstrong. The founder of the NPO is passionate about its various fundraising undertakings, and has been ever since she took her first step in training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in 2005. That first fundraising mission raised R1 million for Durban’s Hospice. The next was for The Tusk Trust – a project to save the rhino from poachers and death – and Thula Thula Rhino Sanctuary.

“We decided – while out in the surrounding rural, impoverished areas – that if we could place sustainable oven projects in the communities near game reserves, we could assist with the poaching problem in giving these people an income to stop the bribery on spotting rhino and reporting to poachers. “We also noticed the state of disrepair of various upliftment programmes which had previously received funding and been established by other organisations. Some of these enterprises had languished due to not being maintained by the residents.” The parable “Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish, he will eat for a lifetime,” is the ethos behind Celebrate Life’s project. “Recipients have to take ownership of the project, learn how to make it sustainable and beneficial to the area in the long term,” Armstrong emphasizes. “That is where our mentorship – supplied by Celebrate Life comes into play. Once successful the home-baker can make a good daily living, providing the neighbourhood with affordable bread to feed their families.

“In Gladys’ case she now earns a viable income and provides an abundance of products for the local community,” Armstrong explains.  However, the Bread-Oven Project needs funding for it to be introduced into various areas. All funds raised contribute towards the setting up of the ovens and the mentorship.   The appeal goes out to corporate entities (like the Iqraa Trust) to get involved in sponsoring the programme. Companies can participate by donating an oven (R25 000) which is a fully-equipped bakery. The cost includes mentoring and training. The oven can be branded and a further R2 500 per month donation enables the baker to provide extra loaves on a monthly basis to supply nearby schools or orphanages.

Donor’s staff can visit the community project they support – which makes it a rewarding CSI project. “Donors who are BEE registered can accumulate BEE points as Celebrate Life holds both an SED certificate and can issue an 18A Tax Certificate for tax savings. From a business perspective the contribution to the community is a financially-savvy one,” Armstrong adds. “As South Africans, we do not need to wait for the government to address the poverty problem. Each and every one of us can contribute in a small way to start the river of change. As citizens, we can begin this wave and transform it into a tsunami. Crime and murder would be radically reduced if we all found a project and contributed to our dire poverty situation,” she said.

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