The recent weeks have not been without their challenges. And, while some have managed to weather the storm, others have not been as fortunate. The notion of “but, how can I help?” has spurred many to find unique ways to reach out through this pandemic. One such person is Simbithi resident, Helen Millar. We chat to her about her initiative: Keep the Lights On.
Helen, who recently moved in with her “not so young” parents, has an immuno-compromised daughter. She wanted to be out there, doing her bit for those in need, but she was unable to. “I was not sleeping, as my heart was breaking for all the people in desperate need. I knew I had to find a way to help from home.”
While on Facebook, Helen came across a post from a woman who was unsure whether to spend her last R20 on maize meal, to feed her children, or on pre-paid electricity. “My heart went out to her. I messaged her, and said she should buy the maize meal and I would pay for her electricity.”
After assisting her, and a few others, Helen roped her family and friends in to assist. Within a day, they had donated to 20 recipients. “The need for electricity was clearly the second greatest, after food,” Helen shares. “Following the positive response of my friends, and the moving messages of gratitude from the recipients, I decided to launch a Facebook page, and it’s grown from there.”
Helen admits the project has grown faster than she ever would have imagined. Due to the demand of the project, she has been joined by Jenny Naidoo and Sam Thompson; both of whom, she says, have been invaluable to the initiative. “We never discriminated and within days the requests were coming in from all over the country from people of all ethnic and cultural groups.” Helen says the greatest challenge has been finding sufficient donors to meet the need, and she is hoping to attract overseas donors. “Family members who live overseas have already donated and are spreading the word to their friends. The need for electricity has not only been to cook food but for scholars and students to study, warm water for a sister to bath her brother who is severely disabled, for warmth as winter begins to bite, for security and for moms to prepare warm bottles of formula for babies.”
To date, Keep the Lights On has helped 675 families – a number that grows, daily. For Helen, the jewels along the way have been the responses from thankful recipients. “Also, being on interviewed on radio, for the Sunday Times and appearing on eNews. Lockdown has brought me and ‘Keep the Lights On’ more exposure than I ever anticipated or expected!”
Helen hopes Keep the Lights On will be a ‘temporary fix’, until local government steps up and takes responsibility. “All the recipients are on pre-paid metering system and what is so sad is that very few receive the free basic electricity that they are eligible for. Either the relevant municipality does not register them or they are either supplied an invalid voucher that registers as being “used” when they try to use them.”
As for how she, and her two daughters Ruby (10) and Liya (6) have been keeping busy during the lockdown; Helen says her project and home schooling have given her more than enough to do! A photographer by profession, Helen works for Hunt Properties. “I had a very idyllic vision of what home schooling would be like, but it has been a rather rude awakening…as many other parents have also discovered. I had to very quickly ask for help as I wasn't managing with the huge demand for electricity. Thankfully my parents are assisting me enormously. I am blessed with how Hunt Properties has looked after their entire team.”
Helen had some inspirational words for her fellow Simbithi-ans. “We are all in this together and we need to help each other whenever we can. We need to appreciate our wonderful Estate with its safe and beautiful environment and become more aware of how desperate the situation is for so many other South Africans. I have gained an even deeper appreciation of how giving and generous South Africans are and the gratitude from recipients has been humbling but brought me the joy of knowing that I have helped in some small way.”
How Does It Work?
The beauty of ‘Keep the Lights On’, is that sponsors or donors donate directly to recipients. There are two systems in place, says Helen, as many members are on ‘free mode’ and cannot apply through the website. Those without access to the website may sign up at https://skydev.agency/keepthelightson/ or follow the Messenger prompts from the Facebook page: Keep the Lights On. “This applies to both families in need and sponsors. Potential recipients supply their mobile number and meter number. The sponsors follow the simple process of purchasing electricity online through their bank and then provide the recipient with the pin number.