Zahid and Zahida Fakey are both CAs(SA) and far from the typical couple. They have taken a unique journey to find their ultimate purpose in life and today we read about their extraordinary story. Last year, in Level 5 of lockdown, the opportunity to make a difference blatantly presented itself and they courageously launched #weFEEDsa to help feed the homeless. It began informally with a group of volunteers coming together and has since grown exponentially to a project that now also offers new opportunities for the homeless.
Zahid and Zahida met on campus while studying. Zahida’s dream was to study medicine so she could heal people, but after one year of soul searching and pursuing subjects like anthropology and philosophy, she decided that she would rather become a CA(SA), as it offered broader opportunities.
‘Little did I realise where that would lead me. I hadn’t done accounting at school, so I had to work harder than most to catch up. Zahid says he became a CA by accident as he followed in his brother’s footsteps, and when he met me knew that he had to pass if he wanted to be with me!’ laughs Zahida.
While Zahida lectured auditing, Zahid climbed the corporate ladder for 21 years, nine of which as a partner. His goal was to retire at 40, but at 43, he began to think outside the box in order to make such a huge decision possible. They decided it was time to leave their comfort zone, but with kids at school that was not so easy.
Zahida went ahead and decided to book a trip to Cambodia. ‘We find that when we travel, we think outside the box and this was an out-of-the-box decision which we had to make. After soul searching while travelling to remote villages, we decided that there was a higher purpose and that we had to move on,’ says Zahid.
On the Monday that the couple returned, Zahid handed in his resignation as a partner and allowed for a nine-month notice period to ensure adequate succession planning. He left on 1 July 2018 without a plan but just a feeling that something would evolve.
Together they started a management consulting company called Unplugged Enterprises and the direction of their future was mapped in ways they did not even imagine.
‘While living abroad in Europe and the States our love for South Africa was reinforced. The warmth of its people, the sense of ubuntu … this is where our hearts lay. We also realised, looking from the outside, that the unemployment rate was key to many of the social ills in our country. We felt that we wanted to come back and make a difference. With this at the back of our minds, when the opportunity presented itself during lockdown, it seemed the manifestation of a dream which we had always had,’ says Zahida.
#weFEEDsa began during level 5 of lockdown when Zahid and Zahida became concerned about how the homeless would obtain meals. It started informally with a group of volunteers coming together and grew exponentially. Zahid and Zahida helped coordinate the logistics of feeding about 12 000 meals a day across 38 sites, including the 14 eThekwini municipal camps.
‘I went in to help with meal preparation and of course Zahid pulled me into the office to assist him and I’ve never left! At the onset it was all decks on hand, we worked at a furious pace to be able to feed the numbers which we did. It felt like sustained overtime during articles. The numbers of people who assisted and worked so hard is testimony to the innate kindness in human beings and the desire to help,’ says Zahida.
How did they achieve providing so many meals a day? ‘Something which we have found from our time in the corporate environment is the benefits of collaboration. We are able to do this because of the support of so many, from corporates whom we reach out to, to individuals who contribute R100 a month. We have an amazing team who make this happen − from the boards of directors who work with their networks to assist, to our relationships with corporates and individuals. We have experienced donor fatigue after lockdown, but at the same time someone always comes to assist when we need it,’ says Zahid.
As time progressed, they soon realised that while feeding was needed, it was important to empower. As a result, they moved to supporting soup kitchens, setting up sustainable gardens to support the soup kitchens, and establishing the House of Opportunity (HOO) where they create a house of second chances for the homeless.
‘While feeding at the municipal camps, we identified some individuals who wanted to change their lives. This resonated with our desire to do more than just feeding and to assist with empowerment which is where the House of Opportunity came into being. While the House of Opportunity was being completed, we set them up at a shelter and arranged on the job training within our networks. Eight of these individuals are now skilled in construction and are employed full time while others are in the system being skilled,’ says Zahida.
‘Our volunteers are our stars,’ Zahida proudly continuous. ‘During the lockdown we had people from all works of life assisting with a wide range of activities from preparing meals, loading vehicles and delivering meals to the various sites to assisting with logistics.’
‘With life going back to normal the base diminished, but the goodwill is still there, and when we require support our volunteers are good with assisting. People can assist through financial and technical assistance where we need support like graphic design, media support and procurement. We reach out to people when we require items for campaigns like school shoes and stationery campaigns, ingredients for hampers and feeding programmes as well as running projects like the setup of the HOO,’ he says.
Starting this journey has rekindled Zahida and Zahida’s hope in humanity. ‘In these most challenging times we have seen the best in humanity − the incredible generosity of ordinary people and the innate desire human beings have to help and uplift others. It has been a blessing for us to be able to facilitate this.’