Make Something Out Of Nothing

The joy that comes from creating something from nothing can be deeply fulfilling. Charlene Yared speaks to ordinary South Africans about how they transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Backyard holiday fun
No matter where they are, the Alberts manage to make an exciting adventure for their children, even if it’s just at home. Transforming their backyard into a campsite, the family often haul out their tents, pillows and duvets for a night under the stars.

“It’s much better than being indoors watching television,” says mom of two, Venessa. “When you go out, you have to pay for petrol and accommodation, and being home allows you to save money and be more spontaneous, whilst still getting that holiday feeling.”

Craig, her husband, agrees, recalling a memory, where they held a camping birthday party for their eldest son, Jordan. “We had a treasure hunt, games and roasted marshmallows,” he says. “It’s about taking an ordinary space and transforming it into something fantastical. Apart from it being economical, it’s also a safe environment for the children to play in.”

Venessa says Jordan (9) and Michaela (6) often build their own tent with garden furniture, balanced beneath blankets and pillows from inside the house. “Sometimes they even pretend to be on Survivor,” she laughs. “It’s so good for developing an imagination, growing a love for the outdoors, and is a way for us, as parents, to relax.”

Top tips for holiday enjoyment without leaving your home:

  • Have an intimate family picnic or braai in the backyard, instead of booking lunch at a restaurant.
  • Rent out a day’s worth of National Geographic DVDs and spend the day marvelling at nature’s beauty from the comfort of your favourite sofa.
  • Have a cook-up evening, where friends each bring along an interesting dish.
  • Tell some friends to bring over their choice of board game and set it up in the garden, where a round of each game can be played in succession.
  • Choose a hot day and make your own backyard water park with an ordinary water sprinkler. Add to the fun by tying an old tyre to a tall tree and create a swing for the kids to enjoy.

Changing lives from one seed

In 1999, Sizathu Thango realised in desperation that her family was starving. “I cried everyday worrying about how I could put food on the table,” she says. It was when she was sitting in a taxi one day when she listened to a radio programme about food security gardens. Deciding to use the monthly child-support grant she received of R60.00, Sizatho bought packets of vegetable seeds – an act that would not only change her life, but the lives of people in her community.

Seeing the improvement at home as a result of the food garden, Sizathu shared what she had learnt with other women in the area, encouraging them to plant food in their backyards. “The Ilanga Women’s Organisation Permaculture project started from just one small seed. We are now 38 women and altogether we feed over 700 people from our community garden,” she says.

Food & Trees for Africa intervened and managed to secure funding for the project from Anglo American, South African Breweries and the Urban Greening Fund. The women now also run a sewing group, an early-learning child development facility, and a ‘drop-in’ centre, where 361 orphans and other vulnerable children can eat two nutritious meals per day.

“We had nothing when the project started in 2001, but now we are fully-funded and are able to feed, as well as teach people about how to make a food garden in their own backyards,” says Sizathu. “Sometimes I don’t believe that this has all happened – but then I look around and see all the healthy faces and I realise just how much it’s changed our lives. We are also doing our bit to green the environment.”

Her message to South Africans, she says, is Vukuzenzele! [Rise up and do something good for others.]

Top tips for helping big with very little:

  • Offer to take an elderly person shopping for groceries as they often find it difficult to get around.
  • Find out about a charity in your area and invest as little as R20 in baking ingredients and make something delicious for those less fortunate.
  • Make a concentrated soup filled with nutritious vegetables and donate this to your local soup kitchen, where it can be further diluted to feed the homeless.
  • Clean out the clutter in your home and donate old or unused household items to someone in need.
  • Help address the national crisis of blood shortage in the country and donate blood to make a difference.

Bread tags for wheelchairs

With the surname of Honeybun, 75-year old Mary lives wholeheartedly up to her name. When she isn’t helping her 10-year old grandson do his homework, or knitting jumpers for the women at the local maternity unit, Mary collects bread tags for wheelchairs.

“I am always looking around for things to do to help those in need and this just seemed like such a good idea,” she says. “This is not just about getting wheelchairs for people, it is also about helping the environment by saving space in the landfills with the plastic that is collected and then recycled.”

For one chair to be secured, 50 kilograms or 141,400 bread tags need to be collected, which pays for a R1550 wheelchair. Mary distributes boxes for collecting bread tags to restaurants and shops in her area, creating awareness around the value of the plastic material. Since starting in 2006, Mary has managed to distribute 17 wheelchairs, four of which were donated as second-hand chairs.

“People need to be aware that what’s considered rubbish can be utilised for another function – and bread tags give so much to people living with disabilities,” she says. “Service to other people is the rent we pay for our room on earth and this is what makes living worthwhile.”

Contact Mary Honeybun on 021-789-1831 for more information.

Top tips for turning something old into something new:

  • Save old scraps of material and sew it all together to make a colourful quilt.
  • Collect empty toilet rolls, wrapping paper and sweets and create funky Christmas crackers for the festive season.
  • Cut off the top half of a 2L plastic bottle and use the bottom section as a pot for growing seedlings. Decorate with paint and ribbon. 
  • When your washing machine gives in, rescue the inside drum and transform it into an attractive chair by topping it with a round cushion. 
  • Bake old wax crayons into a muffin tin allowing them to melt down to create fun new crayon shapes for the kids to use.

From junk to paycheque
After seven years of interior design and working with fabric and furniture, Katie Thompson found an old broken chair buried in her back garden, which she decided to transform with pieces of perspex. “I took it home to my parents and told them I wanted to start a business fixing old junk that I could find, with odds and ends,” she says. “My father told me to take a hike and come back with a real business plan – and not an old broken chair.”

Surprising herself, her idea skyrocketed into a successful venture called Recreate, which was launched at the 2009 Decorex Cape Town at the Cape Town Convention Centre.

From old suitcases that have been transformed into chairs, to an old Hoover, recreated into a lamp, her unique pieces are not merely revamped furniture, but are objects that have been given a new function.

“The products relate to everyone, from a nostalgic 80-year old who recognises objects from her past, to a trendy 20-something guy, looking for retro objects,” she says. “I am a hoarder at heart and have a passion for junk. I love wiggling my way to the back of furniture storerooms, finding objects that have expired and recreating something new and beautiful with them.”

Contact Katie Thompson on 079-989-0871 or or visit for more information.

Top tips to turn your passion into your paycheque:

  • Be brave, take the plunge and break down the dream you have into manageable goals, setting each step against realistic timelines.
  • Know your niche and increase the confidence in your ambition, by taking on extra classes to learn new tricks of the trade. 
  • Take a course in marketing yourself and learn about the different platforms to increase the awareness of your offering.
  • Find a mentor who has done something similar to you and get advice on business and finance if you are not so inclined, to ensure future success. 
  • Avoid the inevitable naysayers and stay positive about changing your idea into your monthly salary.

Author: Charlene Yared-West. Published in The Oprah Magazine, December 2009, Vol. 8, No. 12, p. 119.(Please note that the copy posted above is the unedited version of what was published in the magazine and will differ slightly. To read the edited version of the article, please click on the images for an expanded view.)

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