Stay up to date!

The shelter and the students - A triumph of social impact

By Charlene Stanley

Cookies being cut out for the Bloemshelter entrepreneur project

After completing training in entrepreneurship and life skills,
Bloemshelter residents have started a successful cookie project,
generating a sustainable income.

Photo: Anja Aucamp

The enticing smell of freshly baked cookies drifts over the walls of the well-kept house in Bloemfontein’s busy Raymond Mhlaba Street. Outside, it makes jobseekers, pieceworkers, and drifters look up as they pass by. Inside, a group of women of different ages and cultures form a jovial but focused assembly line, from batter mixing to the final careful packaging of their prized baked goods. Not too long ago, they were the ones on the outside. Until they decided to not only accept help – but to start offering it too.

The lines on Poppie Moolman’s sunburnt face speak of many years of hardship and disappointment. Life has not always been easy. She and her husband Carel could never afford their own place on his meagre salary as a security guard. 

“The worst part for me was always feeling so useless,” she says. “There was nothing I could do to add to our income.”

Things improved when they landed up at Bloemshelter, a facility for homeless people started by Bloemfontein philanthropist, Izak Botes. But the real change came when she became part of the University of the Free State’s (UFS) entrepreneurship training programme at the shelter.

Today, Poppie runs a thriving pancake home industry from the shelter, which provides a small but cherished income. 

She also holds a handful of qualifications – from an entrepreneurship certificate to a diploma, and now also a degree in ‘Pathway to Holistic Development’ from the Global University for Lifelong Learning (GULL).

Bloemshelter has given her a home. But her qualifications gave her a purpose.

The UFS and engaged scholarship

The UFS became involved with Bloemshelter shortly after opening its doors more than ten years ago. At first, it was mainly nursing students who did some of their practical modules here.

It has grown organically from there, with medical students, occupational therapy and physiotherapy students getting involved, offering training in basic health care, and assisting residents with disabilities. Students from the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences have also been pulled in to help with marketing plans for the small enterprises that emerged after training in entrepreneurial skills. Even the Faculty of the Humanities got involved through modules in Social Work and Political Governance.

These engagements enable students to grow professionally by learning more about a certain profession through practical experience, but also to grow personally and develop their social responsiveness. In the process, they contribute towards achieving community development goals.

“It all forms the approach of the UFS policy on service learning – an educational approach that combines learning objectives with community service in order to provide a pragmatic, progressive learning experience while meeting the needs of a society,” explains Karen Venter, Head of Service Learning in the Directorate: Community Engagement.

“Hope smells like
freshly baked cookies.”
—Poppie Moolman,
a Bloemshelter resident
who has benefited from
training programmes
facilitated by the
University of the Free State.

“Students are required to document and discuss reflections of their experiences, which promotes deep learning and personal growth.”

She points out that it is equally important for students to be open to the perspectives and experiences of the Bloemshelter residents. 

“The idea is to stimulate reciprocal, collaborative learning. We learn from one another.”

Azeema Moola is an Occupational Therapy student who is currently doing her community service year at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Gauteng. She fondly remembers the time she spent at Bloemshelter.

“They didn’t have a permanent therapist there to show us the way, so students and residents had to come up with creative solutions together. We were all forced out of our comfort zones a little bit, and that was great.”

She recalls how residents taught them how to make paper beads, while the students in turn helped residents to manufacture keyholders from it.  

“The experience not only taught me professional skills. It really added to my being as a therapist,” she says.

Annual Learning Festival 

One of the outflows of the relationship between Bloemshelter and the UFS is the annual Learning Festival. Over the space of two days, colourful stalls are erected in front of the Main Building on the Bloemfontein Campus, and different skills-training opportunities are presented to community members, students, and learners. Once again, the emphasis is on two-way learning, with trainers and attendees learning from one another.
Katlego Mpoihi attended his first Learning Festival in 2016. He was immediately drawn to the carpentry and upholstery stall.
“I always thought one needed big, expensive machinery to do this kind of work. The festival taught me that you can start small, working with what you have, and grow your business from there.”

And that is exactly what he did. Starting with a simple headboard design and a handful of orders in his backyard in Thaba Nchu, he has since branched out considerably. He also started taking in young apprentices to whom he teaches this trade.    

“I’m not keeping all this knowledge to myself,” he declares proudly.

International bonds forged

The partnership with the UFS has also led to international involvement.  Students from Belgium visited Bloemshelter – nursing students offering CPR training and education students teaching IT skills. Students from Sweden stayed at the shelter for a few days, doing wellness research. The Global University for Lifelong Learning (GULL) also came on board, partnering with the UFS to present uniquely designed action learning programmes specifically aimed at people who do not have the funds or qualifications to follow an academic route.

At a special cap-and-gown ceremony each year, Bloemshelter residents who have successfully completed the various programmes, are officially awarded their certificates, diplomas, and degrees.

Restoring dignity and hope

“The effect of this kind of recognition has an amazing effect on the residents,” says Sonja Botes, Day Manager at Bloemshelter and wife of the late founder, Izak Botes. “Their qualifications boosted their self-confidence. They have been equipped to do something about their own problems and don’t have to wait for a helping hand anymore.” 

The cookie project is a tangible outflow of this confidence. Residents themselves came up with the idea, figuring out the logistics of implementing it, and turning it into a viable, growing income generator for the shelter.

Sonja believes an essential reason for the success of the training received here, is that graduates themselves become trainers, ploughing their skills, experience, and insights back into the lives of newcomers. For her, this helps to fulfil the vision her husband had for Bloemshelter.  

“He saw an occupation as so much more than just a means to earn an income. He believed that it restores human dignity and gives desperate people new hope. And you can see that our residents are no longer ashamed to say that they are staying in a shelter,” she says. “Because this has become a place of hope.”

More community partnerships in future

It is a vision that also resonates with Bishop Billyboy Ramahlele, UFS Director of Community Engagement. 

“The main value of our relationship with Bloemshelter is that it implements the commitment of the UFS to partner with community organisations for the benefit of those less privileged,” he says. 

“This is one of a number of successful partnerships we have with community organisations. It reaches an estimated 1 200 community members annually, culminating in a social investment valued at around R1 000 000 per year. We are committed to building more success stories like this – not only for the sake of developing communities, but also to benefit the training of our students as well as sharing our intellectual resources.”

Poppie Moolman has plans for the future. She wants to expand her pancake enterprise to be equally productive in summer and in winter. And she wants to work with dieticians from the UFS on a more nutritious recipe. She also has plans for more qualifications – maybe a short course in business management.

“I have hope for tomorrow,” she says with a smile. 

An eight-month-old grandson is playing on her lap. She has plans for him too. She wants to teach him from an early age how important it is to learn new things and to believe in yourself. She is confident that his will be a blessed life. Not a life of handouts. A life where you can give back.

Ambassador Jabu Mbalula, from UFS to Romania

Dr van Staden
Digitisation of Teaching and Learning

Hope is a never-ending story

Science comes together against COVID-19

Our Campuses Video

We use cookies to make interactions with our websites and services easy and meaningful, to better understand how they are used and to tailor advertising. You can read more and make your cookie choices here. By continuing to use this site you are giving us your consent to do this.