Comrades and Community Chest – helping improve education
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. A great pleasure to welcome our next guest onto the podcast. I’ve had bits and bobs to do with him over the last few years, particularly around the Comrades Marathon.
They do some incredible work in that exact area where that race is run in the communities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban. I’m talking about the Director of the Community Chest in KZN, in Maritzburg and Durban, Michael Deegan. Welcome onto Old Mutual Live, thanks for taking the time to chat to us today.
Michael Deegan: Thanks Brad, pleasure to talk with you as always.
BB: Michael, I can’t believe that Comrades is just around the corner, it seems like yesterday we were down in Durban and chatting at the expo a little bit about what you guys do and the incredible work that you do. As we speak now, it’s almost time for the 2016 edition, these things almost seem to blend into one and they come and go so quickly.
MD: Absolutely, it’s hard to believe that we’ve just finished it and now we’re moving on, Comrades will be here before we know it.
BB: It does move incredibly fast. Michael, you guys do some phenomenal work in the communities at grass roots where that race is run. That’s what I want to chat to you a little bit about today because there is obviously a big drive around Comrades to raise money for the various charities through their Amabeadibeadi Campaign. Old Mutual in itself, also has a platform called More Than Yourself that you can raise funds for various charities and organisations. What you guys do at the Community Chest almost goes unnoticed because you’ve literally got fingers in so many pies that you touch so many lives. It’s not that you’ve got one big project, but you cover all bases.
Supporting education from a young age
MD: Yeah, thank you for that Brad. We have kind of identified now four pillars that we’re focused on, which is health, education, income generation and community development. For Comrades we look at our educational pillar.
We see that there’s so much work to do in early childhood development because that’s where it all starts. Once you can get a child the education that he/she needs, as early as possible, they’re the foundational basics that will go with that child for the rest of his/her educational career.
We find that we must empower and improve the skills that the ECD leaders have. The skills that the ECD teachers have. We must make sure that they have the best possible facilities and the best possible, food is very important for young children, they must have nutritious food. We’re trying to tick all the boxes when it comes to what the operational aspects, the necessary operational aspects of an early childhood development centre is.
BB: Michael, correct me if I’m wrong, but obviously the intervention, the earlier you can get involved with someone’s life, as a youngster, the more chance you have of succeeding and sort of lifting them out of possible situations that they do find themselves in.
MD: Absolutely, no question about that at all Brad because a child’s brain is developed 85% of the way by the time that child is five. So you have to be getting, motivating and getting the child to be involved as early as possible. In terms of skills, mental development. So that you’re absolutely right, as early as possible and as soon as possible. Because you don’t want those early years to be lost.
BB: Without a doubt. Michael, talk to me a little bit about Community Chest and I say this in jest. That a lot of people’s experience with Community Chest is the cards that you get on a Monopoly game. They hear it, but they’re not quite sure of what it actually is. It’s obviously an organisation that’s doing some great work. But tell me a little bit about how it all got started and the history of the organisation.
More than just a Monopoly card
MD: The Community Chest was founded 55 years ago and it’s actually a combination of different clubs. Like the Lions Club, Rotary and Round Table. Some very interested organisations felt that there was a need for the Community Chest.
The Mayor at that time, back in the 1960’s then agreed that there would be a Pietermaritzburg Industry Community Chest. We started off then and in the 55 years we’ve been operating we have helped around, over 1 300 organisations and to the tune of about R60 million.
It’s not all about the money for us because yes, money is important, but we’re now, as an organisation, going through a huge flurry of change. In that we want to make sure that the interventions that are acquired in our four pillars of health, education, income generation and community development; that if we don’t find another organisation to help us with it, that we will actually do the intervention ourselves.
We’ve had great success in the educational field. We’ve had some success in the TB field. We’re focusing now a lot on income generation because obviously youth need jobs and the unemployment rate, as we know, is very high.
Then community development, what we want to do is, we have a kind of, to pull our four pillars. We say that every child should be healthy, that he/she should get a good education and that he/she should then be able to generate their own income. Then he/she should be able to give back to their community. That’s how we’re trying to pull it all together and we’re finding that we’re having some successes.
it takes a long time to be born and then to be in a position to give back to their community. But one of the programmes that we have, which we’re finding very successful is; we have a junior Community Chest programme going. Which we go into the schools and we form a little junior Community Chest and they fundraise. We match it and then they go out and do what they feel is needed in a community, or what they feel is needed in a school.
Recently, for example, a school which is in the CBD of Pietermaritzburg, we had children going to school with no shoes. The other kids fundraised to get enough money to make sure that every kid going to school was able to have shoes.
The other amazing thing that they did, they had no musical instruments in the schools. We met with a music supplier in Pietermaritzburg, they gave us a very generous discount. Then the school raised enough money for us to match it. Now they have musical instruments in the school.
This is a way of the Community Chest getting into the school at the very early age. So as that kids as young as seven and eight and nine can understand that it’s very important to care and share. To be able to give back as soon as possible when you can.
We find that there’s great joy with these kids in doing this. They get quite a lot of satisfaction out of being able to, and they enjoy it, enjoy fundraising. They enjoy looking to achieve a target or an objective that they themselves have set.
They themselves set the target for the objectives and then they take the box in the end and it’s wondering. If we can do this in schools throughout the area and the district, it will improve things in the long term, there’s no doubt about it.
Developing a relationship with Comrades
BB: Michael, that sounds amazing, those two little projects, I just love hearing that because as I said, you don’t have one big project that you focus on. You’ve got those four pillars, but you’ve got so many different and smaller and not less important projects that you’ve got going on all the time. I love hearing stories like that. Let’s talk about your involvement with the Comrades Marathon and how that relationship was established.
MD: Before my time at the Community Chest, my colleague in Durban, Gordon McDonald, Gordon was instrumental in being involved in the start of the relationship with Comrades. But it’s just, for an event that’s running for over 90 years and they have such a wide range of members that we were delighted to get involved.
There’s three ways that we kind of are connected with the event. Very important to us, is helping underprivileged runners, I like to call them the Assisted Runners. We have between 600-800 of them arrive in Maritzburg on the weekend of the race and they need a place to sleep. They need to be fed and we have a team of six people that are doing that every year now for quite a number of years.
The one thing we have to do for those Assisted Runners is, the one thing that they find is getting to Pietermaritzburg is a challenge because of the transport costs. What we’re trying to do now is to get someone to help them with their transport costs, which will probably have to be in the provinces, or some urban hub or something like that. But we haven’t quite worked it out.
You hear some stories when you go and talk to these people when they’re here. They tell you about how they got here and what they had to do. Because they had no money to get here, the lifts that they were able to get on the road, the stories are just amazing. Every one of those Assisted Runners, they all have a story that is just amazing to listen to. I think what we need to do is to find out more of those stories.
The other thing that we do, the second thing that we do, we just started this last year, one of the refreshment stops. We have a team now of about 40 that are manning a refreshment stop. We had so much enjoyment last year and there’s such a buzz in terms of trying to encourage and motivate all these runners who just kind of, absolutely just kind of come out of nowhere.
We’re busy for obviously a lot of the day, but when they come, they come and it’s like a never ending avalanche of runners. Some of them have different needs and we try and help them with all their needs. That’s very important because we have to give back to Comrades, because the third thing is the runners that run for charity and they run for the Community Chest.
We would like as many of them to be in Batch CC, whereby they raise R5 000 and then they have a slight advantage in the race. They’re more comfortable in where they are and we recognise their contribution because they have done a lot to raise that R5 000.
It’s not easy to raise money in these times and some of them go out of their way and international runners do it as well. We’re grateful to Comrades to give us the opportunity to be involved in Amabeadibeadi. To be able to get, and some of the runners, lots of the runners actually are very interested in where their money is going.
Before Comrades or after Comrades, we get the opportunity to bring them out to some of the locations where we work and they’re able to see exactly what’s going on. That then creates a relationship, cements that relationship, it can grow. Not just at Comrade’s time, but throughout the year things can happen. That’s very important that we bring some of our charity runners around to some of the locations that we’re working in. Because seeing is believing, there’s no doubt about it.
How you can support the community chest
BB: I could not agree more Michael and if you want to raise funds around charity, it’s pretty easy to do. If you go to the Comrades website, you can set up a fundraising campaign there. As Michael said as well, R5 000 will get you into the seeding batch.
Really, R5 000, as difficult as you think it may be in this economic climate, I know there are guys out there who literally say to everyone they know, we all know at least 100 people. If everyone gives me R50, then I’m in that CC Batch and the money does go to some incredible charities. Obviously Community Chest is one of the beneficiaries, but there are a few others as well that you can check out on the Comrades website.
Michael, I think what you guys do is just incredible. I love the work that the Community Chest in Maritzburg and Durban does. That the underprivileged runner that you spoke about and that programme, that makes such a big difference to runners. Because running a race like Comrades is hard enough.
I remember as a little boy, coming down to Comrades to watch my dad run and I remember seeing the night before the race, there were people sleeping under the trees at the start line. Next to the start, because they had nowhere to sleep. You guys have done some incredible work there in helping those runners that really need some support and some help to let them complete the incredible journey. Congratulations on everything you’re doing and best of luck.
MD: Then again Brad, we couldn’t do it without Comrades because they are the people that actually sponsor the cost of the Assisted Runners. We’re just a team that intervenes. What we need to do in terms of hosting them and in terms of feeding them. Again, it’s Comrades, the organisation, it’s their underprivileged runners and we’re eternally grateful to Comrades. We have a very good relationship with them and long may it continue.
BB: Absolutely, Michael, if people want to find out more about the Community Chest in Pietermaritzburg and Durban, I know you’ve got a website, where can they get more info?
MD: The website is www.communitychest.org.za and we’re also on Twitter and Facebook and our telephone number is 033-3941031. We’re more than willing to help anyone with whatever need they may have.
BB: I’m having a quiet chuckle to myself. Who thought they needed to put that many three’s in a telephone number that they’re getting an Irishman to read out!
MD: I have my challenges with the three’s, as they say. But when you’re in an 033 area, it is a challenge.
BB: I love it, Michael, thanks so much for your time, it’s always great to catch up and look forward to seeing you down in Durban and Pietermaritzburg, Comrades 2016.
MD: Look forward to it Brad, always a pleasure.