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Helen Lieberman
An Amazing Woman, A Light unto the Nation

Wednesday 3.06.2020


Helen Liberman discusses her work before, during, and after the creation of her NGO, Ikamva Labantu, which means “Future of the People.” A true activist and community leader, her work has helped thousands of people in need in South Africa by building and supporting creches, schools, senior and youth centers, programs for the disabled, skills training and building initiatives. The lecture explores how the organization has also stepped up to help respond to the COVID crisis around the country.

Helen Lieberman

an image of Helen Lieberman

Helen Lieberman is a South African community leader and activist who has been working in the townships of Cape Town for over 50 years. Originally a speech therapist, Helen made her first trip into the townships in the 1960s—the height of apartheid South Africa—to find a young patient who had been prematurely discharged from the hospital. The insights she gained and the relationships she developed with community leaders over many subsequent visits built the foundation that led to the formation of Ikamva Labantu.

Well, I didn’t have to be helped. I found my way. I went from one person to the next. There was always somebody to meet me. You have no idea of the protection and the care, and how people took ownership of me, and my life, and what they did for me. I didn’t do as much for them as how much was done for me in every way.

We started long before lockdown because we saw the writing on the wall. There’s an army of 120 people doing work that probably 500 people would do. They’re working from morning to night. We have to thank the Kirsch Foundation, you’ve given us an enormous amount of money, and others have too, Scheinberg, Rupert, I cannot tell you how… And hundreds of others have rallied around to give us the muscle to be feeding over 100,000. We’re ramping up to 150,000 now. We were on 130, and we’re ramping up to 150,000 people. The food parcels, the neighbourhood feeding spots, they’re the most powerful that people are now in neighbourhoods, feeding their streets, their areas.

They’re phoning the seniors, all that… There’s a phone chain going on there, WhatsApp groups going on. We are checking on everybody. It’s an army of amazing, amazing initiative, people, energy, respect, and caring, and I salute them. The amount of masks, the amount of sanitising equipment… We are making masks.

But I want to say we are already working from relief to recovery. There’s huge work being done in already setting up, “What are we going to do after COVID?” And we have a huge plan, and I know it’s the right thing because it’s consultative, it’s working with communities who know what they need, who know how they need to do it. So although we are going to feed ‘till we need to, we will be ready the next day, as we were to feed, to carry on, to start the new initiative.