I am a sweetheart.
You earn the right to call yourself a sweetheart from the first plastic bottle top or bread tag you collect. This somewhat endearing term is bestowed on every person that collects bottle tops and bread tags for The sweethearts Foundation. The proceeds of the recycled plastic are used to buy specialised wheelchairs for disadvantaged, wheelchair-bound people.
Outside the offices of our human resources department, at a company where I previously worked, was a large glass vase – our collection point for The sweethearts Foundation. Every day people would drop off what they had collected. I never quite knew what happened to those tops and caps, but from time to time, the jar was empty, and we would start again.
In our home for many years, we have had ‘a place’ where all our bottle tops and bread tags go. For a while it was in a large glass cookie jar, then it moved to a basket on top of the cupboard. The whole family is still in on it. My housekeeper also brings what she and her kids have collected from her community. We have become accustomed to having a few bottle tops around in our pockets or in the car, to add them to the basket. I cannot walk past an empty plastic bottle in a trash can without stopping to remove the cap!
I never had an idea how this all magically took place. How does the collection of plastic bottle tops and bread tags make its way into becoming a wheelchair in someone’s hands? And, I didn’t care, as long as it was for a good cause – a grocery packet full of caps once a month and we were, “doing our bit”
That all changed when I met Zac.
Zac is a gardener in my housing estate and has been tending to the gardens for some years now. He had a discussion with my housekeeper one morning when he saw her carrying her collection of caps and tags into the house. He was curious to know what she was doing with them. When she told him, his face instantly lit up and he shouted excitedly that he would do the same.
Within a week, Zac had dropped of bags and bags of bottle tops at my front door. He had gone to his neighbours and friends in his area and got them to assist him with his collections.
This went on for a few weeks.
One day, as Zac was dropping off another load, I asked him about his sudden and fervent activity. Zac flashed his big smile and proceeded to tell me about his six-year-old daughter Nelisiwe. She has never walked. She was born with an enlarged head and this has prevented her from being able to stand. She has never moved under her own steam, not even crawled. Wherever she goes, someone has to carry her. Zac and his wife Zoura, have been trying to get a wheelchair for Nelli, but without any luck.
Zac would do whatever he could to get his little girl a wheelchair.
We turned to The sweethearts Foundation, who picked up the cause. Our housing estate and neighbouring estate also got involved. Pretty soon, our whole community was making donations towards a wheelchair for Nelli. Through donor sponsorships, cash donations, and the collection of bottle tops, we were able to put Nelli into a CE Mobility custom-fitted wheelchair, giving her mobility for the first time in her life. [See video clip below]
The sweethearts Foundation is a bunch of stellar folk, everyone a volunteer, scattered around the corners of South Africa, all driven by the cause to put disadvantaged, wheelchair-bound people into the correct wheelchair. (The correct wheelchair is an important distinction to make and one that I, and many people like me, make often. Most wheelchair- bound people are, well…bound to their chair! Imagine sitting in the same position for hours on end, day-in and day-out, in a chair that is not comfortable? The amount of customisation differs from patient to patient, but there is almost always a need for some adjustments or design changes.)
The process starts with motivating ordinary people to collect bottle tops and bread tags. When there are enough, drop them off at a collection point. When the collection point has enough for a truck load, they are collected and sent for grinding. The chips are sold for recycling and the proceeds are used to purchase wheelchairs, which are handed over to beneficiaries who register on the site. It takes 450kg of bottle-tops, or 50kg of bread-tags, to purchase one standard wheelchair.
To give you an idea, 450kgs of bottle-tops would completely cover a small car !
You become a sweetheart from the first bottle top or bread tag that you collect for The sweethearts Foundation. It is an honour to call myself one. There is humility in consciously collecting something as common as a plastic bottle top, knowing that it will make a big difference in someone’s life.
Someone like little Nelisiwe.
Today, she is a happy, mobile seven-year-old. Her mom and dad no longer have to carry her wherever she needs to go. The difference it has made in their lives is difficult to describe, and their gratitude is beyond words. Behind the scenes are a troop of sweetheart volunteers that make this a reality. Every penny of the proceeds goes into buying wheelchairs for underprivileged and disadvantaged beneficiaries.
The list of folk requesting wheelchairs is long and grows every day. If you would like to become a sweetheart and assist in some way, please click here to contact us.
[Nelli being fitted in her new wheelchair by the good folks at CE Mobility and ‘moving’ herself for the first time]