CRAIG STEWART, 48, was born and educated in Gauteng, and moved to Cape Town aged 16. He studied zoology and microbiology at UCT, became a high school teacher, moved to an educational non-profit organisation, and eventually co-founded The Warehouse, an NGO tackling poverty and injustice, 13 years ago. He and his wife Liesl have three young children and live in Rosebank. Here, he describes a typical day in his life…
‘I love Cape Town,’ says bicycle fan Craig Stewart, pictured here with his children Zachary, Vivian and Eliza | Photo: Tonya Hester
’I try to get up around 5:30am. My first activity of the day is making coffee. Then big discipline is needed to avoid my emails and instead spend some quiet time on my own reflecting and looking at my day, or maybe reading something inspirational. At about 6.30am I wake up the children, and Liesl and I enjoy a cup of coffee together.
After breakfast I get on my bicycle and follow the children on their bikes to school before cycling on to The Warehouse. I love cycling, it’s free exercise, and eco-friendly. I ride on the assumption everyone’s out to kill me. My greatest danger is not from taxis but distracted parents dropping their children at school!
The first thing I do when I arrive at The Warehouse, which is literally an old warehouse building in Wetton, is shower and make another cup of coffee. All the staff then have an hour of prayer together. This is not some empty ritual, it’s part of our work. I believe that if we believe the things we say we believe, it’s critical.
The Warehouse is an NGO which aims to find ways of effectively addressing poverty, injustice and division in Cape Town. It has 16 paid staff in various roles and is involved in communities all across Cape Town. Most of our work involves building the capacity of local churches to bring about transformation and justice in their local neighbourhoods and our city. This translates into disaster-response initiatives, advocacy campaigns, nutrition programmes, homework clubs, gang interventions and any number of other church-led activities.
I read a lot in the morning to reflect on and engage with what we’re doing. It’s the best time for my brain to read. There are lots of emails and other communications to do, too. Much of my work is connecting and mobilising people.
If I’m lucky, I might have a lunch meeting at Maphindi’s, a wonderful restaurant in Nyanga where they throw meat on a fire for you. Luckily for my waistline, however, it’s more often a peanut butter sandwich which I grab at The Warehouse. Nowadays, I’m trying not to sit in my office to eat it – I read that a break away from your desk actually makes you more productive!
I don’t feel hopeless
I tend to have my out-of-office meetings in the afternoon. There are so many people to meet and engage with, I could fill my whole week with meetings. I work closely with my assistant, Lauren to manage my schedule and work flow. We make a good team and she has hugely increased the fruitfulness of my work. We meet physically once a week when she comes into The Warehouse for an hour. It’s not really necessary, I think we do it because we’re both relational people. My best days are when I see signs of resilience growing in poor communities. I finish work between 4:30 and 5, then it’s back onto my bike. That end-of-day cycle is a critical piece of my day for processing things.
Once home, it’s a maelstrom of family and supper. Friends quite often drop in. I enjoy cooking but Liesl is often quite keen by then to give me the children while she cooks! The kids are just about done and dusted by 9pm, and I might have a Skype call with a foreign university or funder, or Liesl and I might grab a laptop and watch a DVD. We’re huge fans of West Wing, and have watched it far more times than is healthy. We also like The Wire, an American series set in the underbelly of Baltimore. It’s quite shocking but it’s a pretty realistic portrayal of the issues confronting young people excluded from mainstream society, and is reflective of some Cape Town communities, too.
I love Cape Town
Once we’re in bed I’m usually the one who switches off the light. I tend towards optimism so I can usually let go of things, though I do have the odd sleepless night. I do what I’m doing because I really enjoy the work! I go to places some people feel hopeless about, and I don’t feel hopeless because I know the people and their stories. Another motivation is that I feel I’ll have nothing to hand to my kids if I don’t work towards justice in this world.
I love Cape Town: the broad network of friends I have here which enhances my life dramatically, and the opportunities it offers to make a difference.’