Inspired by the idiom ‘a candle loses nothing by lighting another’, Thami Gazide is making an impact in his community through the community gardens initiative he started when he was just 16.
The 22-year-old final-year international relations student from Middelburg in Mpumalanga founded Philanathi Golden Stars, a non-profit organisation, in 2016, to combat poverty and hunger in his community.
He says he asked local businesses and supermarkets to donate food that he would distribute among families who were struggling to make ends meet.
However, after a few months, he realised that his strategy was not sustainable and was not empowering his impoverished community. He then identified an illegal dumping site, which he turned into a community garden with the help of other volunteers. He says instead of asking for food, he asked for seeds and saplings and started growing vegetables.
Gazide says he involved families that could not take care of themselves, enabling them to put food on the table and make some money by selling the extra vegetables they grow.
The first community garden was started on four hectares of land that had been used as an illegal dumping site. By cleaning up the site and planting vegetables, the health of the community was improved because healthy food was made available and an unhealthy dumping site was cleared.
“This initiative responded perfectly to other challenges we faced as a community. The dumping sites were mushrooming everywhere and the condition of our neighbourhood was deteriorating,” he says.
Gazide now manages 16 community gardens that are spread throughout the Middelburg township – including at schools – and benefit 36 participating families.
Gazide's proudest moment was the day he started changing people’s lives and giving them the hope that they are not alone.
He says seeing people grow and being able to transform their lives even in the smallest way inspires him to do even more.
While the families mostly sell their own produce, Gazide says market days are sometimes hosted and bulk sales are sometimes made to local supermarkets.
“We have restored the dignity of many people in this area. It serves as a place for growth; people share ideas and there is unity among them. We are looking at getting a much bigger space so we can turn this into a big community project.“