From the outside, Nomfusi Nkubu looks like the average forty-something year old mother-of-two, living in the Khayelitsha Township just outside of Cape Town, South Africa. The township is home to almost half a million residents. Most of them live in shacks, without indoor plumbing. Many of the mothers who live here are unemployed and struggling to raise children singlehandedly without much income. When you first meet her, Nomfusi’s quiet demeanor makes her seem almost a little shy, but her smile hints at the inner strength of this remarkable woman. Despite what she does, she is modest. The fact that she has seen and survived hardship makes her unfailingly non-judgmental of the people she helps. From the outside you would never know that this remarkable woman is a quiet hero in her community. You might never guess that she works tirelessly, day in and day out, fighting for the health of her neighbors and their children, while offering hope to those who might otherwise have none.
Among my most vivid childhood memories are the brown bag lunches my mother used to pack and send to school with us each day. Sometimes they had our names scribbled on the outside in black pen with a goofy smiley face. On Valentine’s Day or my birthday, there would be a hastily written note and a few cinnamon hearts or some other small treat. My mother worked full time and raised two children without much help but she always managed to send a little love in our school lunches.
The foods in those lunches were simple: some reheated leftovers from the night before, packed in a thermos with a plastic spoon taped to the rim. There was always a piece of fruit, pre-cut or pre-peeled so we could eat it easily, without too much mess. Sometimes, when she had baked cookies for us over the weekend, there would be something sweet in those bags, but usually the familiar smells of home were enough of a treat. Those lunches offered comfort in the middle of a long school day.