Gayle McWalter and GahIia Brogneri, who founded the Observatory-based Adonis Musati Project, were handed the Inyathelo Award for Social justice Philanthropy, at a glittering event held at the Zip Zap Circus Dome in Cape Town last week.
The two friends started the project in response to the tragic death of a young Zimbabwean called Adonis Musati, who died of starvation in 2007, while queuing outside the Home Affairs offices in Cape Town to get his asylum papers.
At first they made meals for refugees seeking sanctuary in the " Mother City, but then, said Gahlia, 'we realised that it was about so much more than food". And with the help of friends and family, Gayle and Gahlia started co-ordinating the daily provision of hot meals to hundreds of asylum seekers who queue each day outside the Department of Home Affairs near the Foreshore.
"When I read the article about Adonis Musad dying of starvation in that queue, it literally broke my _heart," said Gayle.
"In the beginning it started off with providing food and that only lasted a couple of weeks. Then we realised we had to do more than food.
"We also had to deal with the mental health issues. A sense of hopelessness, a sense of helplessness, stopped them from taking the next step... looking for a job, putting their children in school and so on." Besides providing meals, the project also collects and distributes blankets, clothing and toiletries, provides emergency shelter and helps refugees access education and secure employment.
A lay counselling and advice office, along with a Peer Support Group Programme, have also been established by Gayle and Gahha to provide further support to this vulnerable community.
Twelve philanthropists were recognised at last week's ceremony, among them two other Cape Town-based projects — the HELP (Homework Enrichment Life Skills Programme). in Muizenberg received the award for support in education, and the Dad Fund, started by Lyndon Barends, who grew up in Crossroads, received the award for philanthropy in education.
Inyathelo executive director Shelagh Gastrow said all of the recipients had demonstrated initiative and leadership, using their personal funds in a strategic way to make a difference. "Philanthropy is dependent on the interest, passion, commitment, generosity and foresight of individuals like those we have honoured.
"Our awards seek to inspire others to give by recognising the incredible role models among us."