For two years, Tamara Heskwa lived on the streets of Cape Town, Joburg and Durban. Together with a friend she met at a shelter, they traversed the country’s roads under often harrowing circumstances.
This journey started when she turned her back on family and friends after leaving a hospital and going to a shelter in Kensington.
“I got divorced in 2012 and that broke me,” says Ms Heskwa. “I turned to alcohol to suppress my pain, to be free. I made bad decisions and lost my job. I was admitted to hospital after trying to commit suicide, and when I was discharged, I had nowhere to go. Well, I did not want to go to my relatives. That’s how I landed up at the Kensington shelter.”
At this shelter she met a man who was initially good to her, but, later he turned abusive.
“We were hitchhiking, walking, driven by a purpose to be together and to do our own thing. I had nowhere to go in Joburg and landed up in a shelter there too. With no friends or family he was all I had. It was not all good as he beat me; he insisted I take drugs. That was the life he wanted, and I was terrified, absolutely scared of this man as we went from place to place begging for money.”
After two years on the road, she eventually found her way back to the Mother City and specifically to Elim night shelter where her life changed for the better.
“When I got to Elim on the 19th June of 2014 I had had enough of being on the street. I had had enough of being with this man who was using me to beg on the roads. It was a dangerous time, I was out of control and I needed stability, a stability that Elim provided.”
She says with the support of Elim night shelter managers Shafiek and Liza Ortell she was able to put her old life behind her.
“I was there for a few months, nearly a year, and when I got this job, they still supported me. In fact, they took my monthly pay, and, after a few months, they gave it to me and said I could get my own place, which I did. I was sad as I was leaving the Elim family behind but glad because I was becoming independent.”
Ms Heskwa was referred by friends at Elim to the owners of Vieira’s Bakery who did not hesitate to employ her as a receptionist, according to Damian Vieira, the owner of the bakery.
“Whether it’s a person from a shelter or a varsity, you are still taking a chance to hire someone,” says Mr Vieira.
“Tamara is with us now for six years and she does everything from working at reception to admin to assisting customers. In fact, some people won’t buy from us unless Tamara is doing the sale. She is an asset to this company, and we are really pleased to have her here.”
Today Ms Heskwa is renting a two-bedroom house with her fiancé, Richard Gilowey, in Goodwood, down the road from where she works at Vieira’s Bakery. And she has been a model of consistency for the company since 2015.
“I could never work at a company for more than six months; I’d always just leave after a while. I did not feel the need to report to anyone for so long, I just wanted to move, be out, party. But now I have a great relationship with my boss and my colleagues, I’m really happy here,” Ms Heskwa says.
“I was depressed for the better part of my life and tried to medicate with alcohol. I made bad decisions. I got easily bored of work and just wanted to party. That way of living, the pain, the embarrassment and the shame of speaking of it is no longer a factor. My circumstances have not defined me and I believe that I learned from it and that I have to press on. I’m enjoying my life now, work, routines, everything.”