Wits students give back by going green with The Green Bag Project 

FOUR psychologists got together and started The Green Bag Project (TGBP), an initiative to provide Braamfontein’s homeless people with toiletry supplies donated by the community, on March 2.

TGBP was launched by Wits psychology lecturer Boledi Tladi with psychologists Buyisile Mncina, Khanyisile Bujela, Boikhutso Maubane and Nomsa Radebe, as well as Wits students Mercy Minah and Ian Mkandla.
The scheme sees members of the community help fill bright green drawstring bags, each with a month’s supply of standard items such as soap, toothpaste, deodorants and sanitary products. The team then walks around, engages with the homeless and hands out the bags. Tladi told Wits Vuvuzela she saw the idea of handing out toiletry supplies in drawstring bags in a WhatsApp status update, and she thought it was a cool idea.

“I was walking to Clicks in Braamfontein and a homeless person was standing outside. He tried to get my attention and I gave the usual response, saying I had no money, but he said he didn’t need money; he just needed soap and supplies. I thought, ‘okay I can do that’,” Tladi said.

Postgraduate International Relations student Ian Mkandla, who volunteers for TGBP, told Wits Vuvuzela he was motivated to join the initiative to give back to his community. He also said the initiative was a platform from which people could begin to understand the position of the homeless community with nuance and without judgment.

“You get a different perspective after interacting with homeless people. From that you get to understand that they all come from different backgrounds, they have different reasons for why they are there. It’s not all just drug-related,” said Mkandla.

Tladi, who has been part of the Braamfontein community since her first year at Wits, said they brought car guard and homeless person Lebo Mathlati on board to introduce them to the student hub’s homeless community. Mathlati also helps co-ordinate and organise guided walkabouts for Green Bag Project participants to engage with the groups around them.

“I was approached and asked about things we need most as people living on the streets,” said Mathlati. “It has made a huge difference because first I didn’t have things to bathe with, but now I’m clean and I can bath because of the Green Bag Project.”

Tladi said: “Eventually the hope is to meet the needs of as many vulnerable population groups as we can, by trying to meet something as simple as a basic need everybody has.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Car guard and The Green Bag Project guide, Lebo Mathlati, standing with the toiletry bags of the initiative. Photo: Provided.