A Zimbabwe native helps refugees from her country in South Africa
Terry Hodson, who now lives in South Africa, delivers food and offers comfort and advice to refugees from the troubles in neighboring Zimbabwe.
Cape Town, South Africa
Terry Hodson drives behind a white station wagon, almost identical to her own, carrying fellow volunteers around the curve of the road and under the highway overpass. In the shadows, five men huddle around a fire. Two wave. The others just stare.Skip to next paragraph
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The two cars park. Within 10 minutes, more than 75 men emerge from the shadows under the bridge and form disorganized lines behind the cars. Most of them are from Zimbabwe. They are between 16 and 30 years old, and nearly all are unemployed.
They are the refugees under the bridge.
Once a week, members of the Adonis Musati Project bring food to them – today, three sandwiches, an orange, and a bottle of water for each person. The project is one of several organizations in Cape Town that work to fill the void left by what Ms. Hodson sees as the inability and unwillingness of the South African government to provide refugees and asylum seekers with anything more than a long wait to apply for legal papers.
Hodson and some fellow Zimbabwean ex-pats formed the project in November 2007 after Adonis Musati, a Zimbabwean, starved to death while waiting for his papers at the Nyanga Refugee Reception Center in Cape Town.
The project also helps refugees compile résumés for job interviews, distributes clothes and sleeping bags, and recently opened a halfway house for 12 refugee orphan boys.
Under the bridge, Hodson recognizes a new face in the crowd. She will find out who he is, how long he has been here, and what help he needs.
Her organization is funded solely by donations and run entirely by volunteers, a fact Hodson proudly emphasizes. Everything the organization has goes directly to the refugees and asylum seekers. "I think we're probably the most grass-roots refugee organization" in Cape Town, she says. "We're on the ground, in the streets as much as we can be."
Despite not having a large budget, Adonis Musati works to help as many as it can.
"They have done an amazing amount of work with very little resources," says Braam Hanekom, chair of PASSOP, a refugee advocacy organization in Cape Town.
Hodson, a former schoolteacher, maintains strong ties to Zimbabwe. Family members still live there. She returns almost every year, and she hopes she will be able to persuade her South African husband to retire there.
While she has always empathized with refugees from the economic, social, and political trauma in Zimbabwe, it was the death of Mr. Musati that pushed her into action to help those who cross the border – from Zimbabwe or other countries – in any way she can.
"I feel really strongly about all the suffering," she says. "So much has been messed up [in Zimbabwe]. The whole social structure and fabric has been torn apart."
As of January 2009, South Africa had 43,546 refugees and 227,125 asylum seekers, according to the United Nations relief agency UNHCR. South Africa hosts people from 52 countries, including Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Somalia.