Diaz Village Neighbourhood Watch (DVNW) and the Grassy Park Empowerment Forum (GPEF) teamed up to take a break from combating crime and instead focus on “breaking barriers” between Muslims and Christians.
They held a mass iftaar (breaking of fast) where residents of the two religions met over a meal, in Fairview Primary hall, on Thursday June 16, Youth Day.
David Benjamin, spokesman for DVNW, said the venture proved that if people united they had a better chance to prevent crime.
Mr Benjamin said that a few years ago he had asked himself what he could do after hearing and seeing robberies and other crime.
After giving up smoking and becoming ill with pneumonia and other illnesses, Mr Benjamin became more aware of his role in society and changed his approach to crime.
“The neighbourhood watch’s aim is to build communities and help those who have lost their way. We approach the man in the street, and, in order to restore his dignity, we empower him,” said Mr Benjamin.
He gave one example of a man who used to roam the streets and rob people to make a living. Instead of using abusive language to stop him from doing wrong, Mr Benjamin said: “I befriended him. We are planning to offer him odd jobs such as painting.”
Mr Benjamin said he also took an active approach in keeping their area clean.
He said the parking lot in front of Grassy Park library and the Grassy Park police station was filled with people who harassed those who parked there. “We got rid of all the vagrants, cleaned up the area, with the help of Grassy Park SAPS, and want to keep it that way,” he said.
Warrant Officer Wynita Kleinsmith said Colonel Shawn van Wyk, station commander of Grassy Park police, had started the clean-up campaign. “We’re glad that the neighbourhood watch assisted us because we welcome them for taking over this initiative.”
Mr Benjamin said he visited the parking lot every day to keep an eye on things.
Meanwhile, people had started to approach him to help them park their cars.
“People were starting to tip me. I didn’t ask them, they would just put money in my hand. I did it for a month, and I realised that if someone gives me an act of kindness by giving me a smile, it lights up my day.”
Mr Benjamin said he earned R1 300 tips for that month. “And with that money, I could buy food for the iftaar. We wanted to introduce the Muslims and Christians so they could get to know one another’s traditions and cultures.”
He said they would also be giving out food parcels to the needy over Ramadaan and Christmas.
Elsabe Benjamin, chairwoman of the GPEF, said they wanted to eliminate the social ills in the area. They had teamed up with the DVNW for events, such as a Braai Day, a fun day and Youth Day where games wereplayed and a meal shared.
She said these meetings formed a platform to address social ills, such as the various forms of abuse. The GPEF approached young people to help them.
“We will then refer them to the Lighthouse rehabilitation centre in Retreat,” she said.
Gaseeb Jacobs, founder of Lighthouse, said: “We treat 18 year olds and over who are drug abusers. However, I approached my staff recently to focus on younger children to do a survey. We noticed that there are young children coming home to an empty house. They play alone.”
He said drug abusers were getting younger. “I travel a lot to places such as Malaysia and Singapore which have drug rehabilitation programmes which I bring back to South Africa,”
said Mr Jacobs.