New wheelchair for Buhlebenkosi

Zikhona Mene and her daughter, Buhlebenkosi, at the wheelchair handover at Tygerberg Association for Persons with Physical Disabilities in Goodwood. From left, are Paul Roos Gymnasium pupil David Janse van Rensburg, Polystyrene Association of SA director Adri Spangenberg, Tygerberg Association for Persons with Physical Disabilities staff member Celista Gerber and Western Province rugby team fly-half Damian Willemse.

Plastic bread tags have been turned into a wheelchair for an eight-year-old disabled girl from Kraaifontein.

Buhlebenkosi Mene was born with spina bifida, and getting around has not been easy for her and her mother, Zikhona Mene, 24, until last Wednesday when Buhlebenkosi got a new wheelchair.

Her new wheels were presented to her at the Tygerberg Association for Persons with Physical Disabilities, in Goodwood.

“I am so happy,” said Ms Mene. “I don’t know what to say. I didn’t expect it. It was difficult to go with her to town because her old wheelchair was difficult to fold, and I had to carry her. And this new wheelchair is easy to fold. I can even put it in a taxi.”

The Polystyrene Association of South Africa donated the wheelchair as part of National Disability Rights Awareness Month, which runs until the International Day of Person with Disabilities on December 3.

Adri Spangenberg, the association’s director, said it had hundreds of volunteers around the country collecting bread tags.

The network includes teachers, pupils, churches and ordinary members of the public.

“This year we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the bread tags for wheelchairs project,” said Ms Spangenberg.

“Since its humble beginnings, this initiative has grown into an international volunteer effort that has changed the lives of thousands of people.”

The bread tags, which are made of high-impact polystyrene, are recycled into everything from seedling trays and curtain rods to outdoor furniture and decking.

The association has established a network of buyers around the country who pay R8 for each kilogram of bread tags. The money buys the wheelchairs, and, according to Ms Spangenberg, close to 300 are handed over each year.

Grade 11 Paul Roos Gymnasium pupil David Janse Van Rensburg,17, started collecting bread tags in 2015 and, with help from Western Province rugby flyhalf and fullback Damian Willemse, he has raised enough money so far to buy six wheelchairs.

“I know him from high school,” said Mr Willemse.

“I was also at Paul Roos Gymnasium, but I was his senior. It is my first time to be involved in such a massive project, and I am looking forward to do more.”

David said his parents had taught him that you don’t have to be rich to help others.

“You don’t have to do big things, just small things can change other people’s lives.”