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A journey of a 1000 miles starts with peanut butter cookies

It all started with some peanut butter cookies.

A couple of years ago, with nothing else planned one Saturday morning, my husband Julian suggested we make some peanut butter cookies and visit Leah our cleaning lady at her shack in Mamelodi. With a 2-year-old helping make the cookies, we set off into the unknown.

Leah had to meet us at the main crossroad. We never would have found her home in the sea of tightly packed, unmarked shacks otherwise. Upon arrival our context was immediately broadened: we saw for the first time that she did not have electricity, but only access to a communal tap in the garden and a shared long-drop toilet at the back. Despite this, she took tremendous pride in her home. It was basic but nicely decorated, neat and homely.

That Christmas, instead of a 13th cheque, now that we knew her context better we bought Leah a solar panel with two LED lights and a cellphone charger. A year later, we installed an even more powerful solar panel to light her whole shack up. She now saves on the daily paraffin cost for lights as well as eliminating the ever threatening fire hazard that these lamps pose. Leah also no longer needs to pay the R5 going rate for charging her cellphone at a nearby store.

Most of all though, that first visit to Mamelodi pointed out to us something that should be self-evident: although Leah lives just 10kms away from us, it is a different world and one that we know little of. In light of this, earlier this year, Julian and I decided that we will rip ourselves out of our comfort bubble for just a month in August to experience the hardships, challenges and hopefully also some of the joys and sense of Ubuntu that township living seems to entail.

We will endeavour to do this on a household income of R100 a day (somewhere between the median black household income of R2 200 a month and the mean black household income of R5 000 a month). All possessions a normal township dweller would not be able to afford such as our cars will be left behind. The only exception being our contract cellphones, which are both needed for work. The experience will give us a powerful opportunity to show our daughters (4-year-old Julia and 2-year-old Jessica) that not everyone lives the way we are used to.

Feel free to follow us both here on Thought Leader and also on our website to join us on this journey. We also hope to encourage more people to have peanut butter cookie moments in getting to know those around you better.


  • Ena Hewitt

    Born in Umtata, Ena completed high school in New Delhi before studying actuarial science at UCT. She has travelled to over 40 countries and has lived for extended periods in New Zealand, India, China, Germany and England. Ena spent six years in the financial markets in South Africa as a fixed income and foreign exchange trader with JP Morgan. She was the first South African to complete her MBA at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai -- currently rated as the top business school in Asia. This included a semester at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania before spending a year with HSBC from 2008 to 2009 as the head of asset and liability management for mainland China. As a mother of two daughters, Ena is currently out of the industry. She has been involved in initiating a small-scale organic farming initiative in Pretoria and works as an estate agent.