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Byron Shire
October 22, 2021

Byron family’s Durban sojourn becomes a labour of love

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Two years ago, Byron Bay family the Knoetzes sold off their belongings and headed for Durban, South Africa, a city so overpopulated in can no longer withstand the flood of people coming into the city. So captured were they by the broken and poor community, that they initiated the Love & Hope Project in response.

The project works in Burnwood, an informal community in the midst of the Durban metropolitan area. Thousands of people are crammed into small shacks made of corrugated iron or whatever else they can find, with no electricity, no running water and only four flushing toilets for the community to share.

Christiaan and Elise Knoetze, together with their three boys CJ, 11, Kaleb, 9 and Jayden who is 8 and has Autism, work tirelessly in the community to bring dignity to these people and offer them the capacity to rise above their circumstances and to break the cycle that keeps people locked in poverty.

Christiaan with an armload of supplies for the residents of Burnwood. Photo Love & Hope Project
Christiaan with an armload of supplies for the residents of Burnwood. Photo Love & Hope Project

Christiaan said that when the family moved to Durban at the beginning of last year, ‘we had little idea of what lay ahead for us.’

‘South Africa has made tremendous strides in the last 20 years, but the worst communities have been largely forgotten and ignored. South Africa is a mixture of first world, and the desperately poor living side by side, and is one of the most unequal societies in history,’ he said.

‘We started working in Burnwood, a slum community in the midst of the Durban metropolitan area, but neglected and forgotten by politicians, NGOs and churches. For many of the kids we work with, we were the first white faces they’ve ever seen. Thousands of people crammed in small shacks made of corrugated iron, and whatever they can find, with no electricity, no running water and only four flushing toilets to service 7,000.

‘We are involved in so many different facets of people’s lives. Job creation, up-skilling people, providing mentoring, helping people take their “next necessary steps”, like assisting with writing CVs, getting licenses, and ID books and other necessary documentation.

Elise Knoetze with some of the local Burnwood kids. Photo Love & Hope Project
Elise Knoetze with some of the local Burnwood kids. Photo Love & Hope Project

‘We’ve seen many people enter the workforce for the first time in years, and in the process seeing their families transformed. During the recent floods in Durban, we helped rebuild numerous houses, and also organised a clothes and blanket drive that supported many families in their hour of increased need.

‘We have a large focus on kids, and we currently have groups of kids being taught dance, poetry, singing and playing instruments. We have after care groups where kids are studying and learning basic hygiene and life skills. We also run holiday programs for the kids as well as some movie nights, where kids experience little things so many of us take for granted.

‘We connect with people, and find the greatness within them, and we’re seeing amazing things happen. We have been so blown away by the response from the local community and the observable change in so many.

‘There’s still a long way to go, but in two years, the difference truly is amazing,’ Christiaan said.

But he added that the realities of living in South Africa, and working in such communities are harsh at times.

The shanty town that is Burnwood. Photo Love & Hope Project
The shanty town that is Burnwood. Photo Love & Hope Project

‘Our family has witnessed so many things in the past year, that you’d only ever see on the TV in Australia: stabbings, people being beaten and stoned, incidences of gun violence, rioting and many other heartbreaking sights.

‘We’ve had our own scares and have been robbed and held up at various occasions.

‘The reality is that the need in this city is so great, but I know that we can make a positive difference for thousands with this message of hope,’ he said.

But time is running out for the Knoetze Family. Without funds, the Love & Hope Project can’t continue and they will forced to return home to Byron Bay.

‘We’re at a financial crossroads where we need to make some difficult decisions with regards to our future here in Durban. To make this project work, we need people who have the capacity to partner with us in making an impact in this city,’ Christiaan said.

Their next goal is to raise $28,000 and a GoFundMe page has been established. Any donation, no matter how small helps, so please spread love and hope this Valentine’s Day.

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