Siya and Rachel Kolisi help feed the hungry during Covid-19 lockdown

31 May 2020 - 00:00 By LEONIE WAGNER
Siya Kolisi and his wife, Rachel, use a wheelbarrow to deliver food in an East London township as part of their foundation's efforts to ease the plight of the poor.
Siya Kolisi and his wife, Rachel, use a wheelbarrow to deliver food in an East London township as part of their foundation's efforts to ease the plight of the poor.
Image: Chris Joubert

SA's WAG-in-chief, Rachel Kolisi, is out of her comfort zone, and she loves it.

While many celebs have been hibernating in lockdown, the wife of Springbok rugby captain Siya Kolisi has been busier than ever.

The couple have expanded their Kolisi Foundation from its focus on helping victims of gender-based violence to distributing food in destitute communities.

Rachel, 30, said this week that being confronted with the harsh reality of communities trying to stay afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic was bitter-sweet.

"We need to be taken out of our comfort zones to be able to help more people," she said.

"The heartbreaking thing is knowing that this isn't the reality for people only during Covid-19, it's a reality that will be with them even afterwards," she said.

In a Zoom interview with the Sunday Times, she spoke about why it was so important for her and Siya to be in communities helping to feed people during this time.

Rachel Kolisi pauses to speak to children waiting in line for food parcels. She and Siya have helped people in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and the Free State.
Rachel Kolisi pauses to speak to children waiting in line for food parcels. She and Siya have helped people in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and the Free State.
Image: Chris Joubert

"I remember the first time we went out, we were so cautious about how people were going to feel about it. One thing that was super important for us was to make sure that the food goes to the hands that it needs to go to," she said.

They've been to Zwide in Port Elizabeth where Siya grew up, as well as communities in Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Limpopo.

They've had to be extra cautious around children, she said, as they often don't understand social distancing protocols. Their masks have helped disguise them somewhat, preventing large crowds from coming to meet them.

Social distancing means selfies and cuddles with children are not allowed, but Rachel makes it a priority to speak to people in the communities they visit to get a better understanding of their situation.

The philanthropist and fitness enthusiast said the first two weeks of lockdown had been "terrible" because she struggled to get into a routine for cooking, cleaning and home-schooling.

The work she's done with the foundation has helped her focus and brought into sharp relief how much she has to be grateful for.

"One of my most special moments during this time has been with my family. We have a no-phone-zone night and we have a picnic in the house. That's been one of the coolest things, I've just enjoyed that so much during this time," she said.

The couple have two children of their own and have also adopted Siya's two younger siblings.

The plight of vulnerable women remains close to Rachel's heart.

When President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation on May 13 and said "men have declared war on our women", Rachel decided to share with her 242,000 Instagram followers the story of a young mother who fled her home with her three-week-old baby after years of spousal abuse.

She found shelter with a woman who herself had six children, two of her own and four foster children from the community.

A good Samaritan who was familiar with the work the Kolisi Foundation has been doing in communities contacted Rachel about the dire situation of these two families living in a three-bedroom house.

"The woman is just one person in SA, there are so many other people who are dealing with similar situations and don't know where to turn," Rachel said.

"It was just very heavy on my heart, and after the president's address I was so irritated, almost, that I posted the message about her."

She was inundated with messages from people and organisations who wanted to help. Through a crowdfunding site, Rachel has raised more than R55,000 for the two women.

The foundation also helped the abused woman to find safe accommodation in a place of safety in Cape Town, with enough winter clothes and necessities for herself and her baby.


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