How did one Cape Town man turn around his retrenchment? We at Thislife Online are republishing this interview with Clive Kolbe, who died recently, to honour a man who is remembered with great gratitude and affection in the communities he served…
Sandwiches for schoolchildren: assisted by his wife Lorna and right-hand man Mervin, Clive Kolbe delivered sustenance and hope to vulnerable schoolchildren | Photo: Tonya Hester
‘I was retrenched after a lifetime in printing 11 years ago, and felt very despondent. My daughter said, ‘Dad, what are you going to do?’ and I said, ‘Tracy, I’ve no idea’. She suggested I coach cricket as I had played for Western Province years earlier, and I offered my services to a school in Lavender Hill. The principal said, ‘Thanks very much but the children can’t play on an empty stomach.’ I was dumbstruck. I visited more schools and the principals all sang the same tune: children can’t play without food. That night I couldn’t eat my supper.
Shortly afterwards, I was with my six brothers and sisters. I told them what the principals had said, and my late brother Malcolm put R50 on the table, saying, ‘Go and buy bread for the children’. In no time at all, there was R850 on the table.
The next Monday, I took 25 loaves of bread to two schools in Lavender Hill. Shortly afterwards, other schools asked us to help them, so we held a bingo evening and raised R5,000. A week later we got a call from a pharmaceutical company: a staff member had motivated them to match what we had raised rand for rand. I was totally shocked. We’ve grown and grown, and now, 11 years later, we take bread to 15 schools, fishermen in Fish Hoek and Muizenberg, and a crèche in Stellenbosch. I get up at 5.30 on Monday morning, and go with Mervin, my right-hand man, to Sasko Bakeries for 800 top-quality loaves, the best of bread, and I deliver them during the week. The schools put their own fillings into the sandwiches, which the education department supplies – usually jam and peanut butter.
I particularly remember the seventh school we adopted. The headmaster called me for help as one of his mothers had just tried to drown herself and her children in Hout Bay harbour because she had no food to give them. Early on, I felt defeated coming face to face with so much poverty, and in 2007 I was going to throw in the towel because I could no longer afford the petrol for deliveries. My neighbour heard about this and contacted her company, which not only sponsored our petrol but gave us a bakkie too! This took such a load off our shoulders.
We have been so blessed by sponsorship. It has enabled us to give some children raincoats because in winter many sit drenched in class all day long. We also help with school fees in desperate situations. They’re only R200 a year but some parents can’t manage even this, and the children stay away because they are embarrassed. At Christmas we give party packs to every child, and were very moved when we saw a little girl suck a sweet, then put it back in the wrapper. She said she wanted to save it because she didn’t know when she would next get sweets.
We are now registered as Not For Profit and Lorna, my pillar of strength, does the books fastidiously – she’s always on at me for receipts! Only Mervin, who works for us one day a week, gets paid. The thing I like most about this is when a child says, ‘Môre, Mnr Broodman [Morning, Mr Breadman]’, and smiles at me. I cannot save the world from hunger but I can make a contribution. And the smile on a child’s face – that’s my joy.’