Our Stories

We find it a happy, rewarding, joyful and mostly humbling experience

Happy – when the children arrive with their bags, their happy smiling faces are too precious, the fun they have in Kiddies’ Corner.

Rewarding – for us as volunteers, that we have hopefully made a difference in one child’s life on a Wednesday, be it a hug they don’t get, a little love shown, general interaction.

Joyful – when we see the excitement on the children’s faces when they have purchased something they really want and have saved for.

Humbling – when the children spend their mula on things we take for granted, toothpaste, toilet paper or a face cloth.

We are so glad we found freshStart and try not to miss a Wednesday!

Marco and Lynda

Joan’s Story

I am not a regular volunteer at SwopShop, but I thoroughly enjoy my afternoon when I am present. I learn to be patient as the children shop.  I love when a small hand (usually a little girl) takes my hand and does not let go until she leaves for home. I love the hugs around my legs and when I bend down half round my body as it is too big for their small arms, but my neck is just big enough.  I make a point of acknowledging the number of points the children have earned and their smiles are usually a picture of sheer delight.  I receive so much love from the children at SwopShop, the volunteers and the van As family. It is smiles all round.  I thinks I receive much more than I give. Thank you for the love I experience on a Wednesday afternoon.  PS The last day was amazing; beautifully displayed  –  oh those ‘plakkies’, cars and dolls- beautiful!! A big thank you to the Buyers and  Display artists, and to the people who made the generous donations.

Marianne the Card Tannie

I have been the ‘check-in’ tannie for the boys since 2018.  The kids get through the gate,  their stuff gets weighed and their points written on a sticker.  They then come to the ‘check-in’ table where I will get their cards and write their points on the card.  Sounds easy enough,  doesn’t it?   You have never been so mistaken….

Enters the Tannie that doesn’t hear properly!  And no,  there’s nothing wrong with my hearing as such.  My ears however,  sometimes hear the strangest names and I will look through all the cards and ask:  “Is this the first time you’re at freshStart?” – just to have the boy shake his head in amazement and say:  “Maar Tannie,  jy het verlede week dan my kaartjie gekry! (you found my card last week!).  I’ll then ask for him to say his name slowly,  or even write down the first letter of his name, or ask Tiesie to help out.  Eventually (usually) the penny drops and I find the card.

At least,  that is how I started out in the beginning of the year.  Lida then said it would be a good idea for me to take the cards home on a Wednesday and sort the check-out box cards back into the ‘check-in’ boxes.  When I started doing that and saw the names on a regular basis (usually on a Wednesday morning so they could be fresh in my mind),  it helped tremendously.  It felt like a little victory every time I found the right card on the first try – and even more so when I started recognising the kids while they were still queueing for their recyclables to be weighed.

Annie’s Delight

My ‘life at Swop Shop’ started 5 years ago and has indeed touched, inspired, and brought life and hope in abundance.  To serve on the freshStart Family Team is a joy and privilege untold as the children serve us in ways that far outweigh anything we could  ever offer.  Their smiles, their tears, their laughter, their life stories – together with their enthusiasm, their effort and faithfulness in coming have crept into my heart big time.  I am so grateful for this project that is truly run with such precision and served with such heart.  It’s my happy place and the children are PRECIOUS!

Margie, a Shopper at the SwopShop

I am a part time resident of Sedgefield so can only help out at the SwopShop a couple of times a month. I wanted to get involved in the community in some way and freshStart has been such a fun and rewarding way to do so. It’s such a fantastic concept:  rewarding the kids for keeping their environment clean and teaching them to recycle. I just love to see the queue of excited kiddies lining up with their big bags full of recycling and then helping them to spend their points. It has also been a wonderful way to meet some lovely people.

Melissa, a young volunteer from Chile, about her experience with freshStart

Many people talk about making a difference – but some don’t just talk about it, they do it.   And people like these are the ones I met at freshStart.

I came to Sedgefield to be a volunteer at Masithandane, a wonderful NGO which serves in Smutsville, the township on the periphery of this town. It was during these three months in South Africa, that I also came across freshStart, an amazing organization which I simply loved.

Very often NGOs and NPOs do EITHER  – they focus on humanitarian/ social issues OR target environmental problems. The amazing thing about freshStart is that it tackles both. Every Wednesday, more than one ton of recycled waste is transported in a big truck out of Smutsville. That is more than one ton of plastic, glass, tins and paper, which might otherwise be contaminating the streets of Smutsville or would end up in a dump site. At the same time, every Wednesday, the 250 + kids from the community learn “real life lessons” while having the opportunity to get something they might really need or have dreamt of for a long time. They learn to work towards their goals, they learn to save (mula points in this case), and be proud of their achievements, etc.  Most importantly, at freshStart, they are given love. I could really see that from the moment the children entered the swop shop, they were treated with respect, dedication and love. This special love, even though it is only for a short time once a week, is giving the children what every human being needs the most.  It is so heart warming to see how freshStart has a unique way of helping people through helping the environment.

This is why I loved freshStart so much. Not only do they have loving, dedicated, and caring volunteers, but they are also making a big difference to our environment AND the people in the community with this amazing and very innovative initiative.

I loved being part of this project for these three months. Being with the kids, taking them by the hand, going with them through the shop, looking for things they wanted to take home and sharing with the other volunteers was a heart warming experience!

Why Lindiwe volunteers

I think the SwopShop is like a healing garden of the soul for the soft hearts of the children. These children face many challenges at home, sometimes abuse and the parents have marital problems, many challenges which the children live with. For the time that they are at the SwopShop, they can get new strength to face these challenges and for the hour or so that they stay at the Shop, they can forget about their problems.

You know, us parents, we don’t have time to read stories with our children. We come home late and we are tired. Also we cannot buy a lot of toys or clothes for them. But they come to SwopShop and there is story time, they play with toys and do crafts. That is why I say it is like a healing garden to the soul.


The Transvaal Voortrekkers held their 25th Sea-camp at Swartvlei Caravan Park in July 2017. There were almost 500 primary school children attending the camp. Each year group does its own learning activities varying from animal life, to sea life, seashore and marshland biospheres.

Every year, the Voortrekkers also do a project (or two) as a combined group, working towards helping those less privileged. Amongst others, they had a drive called “‘n Baadjie vir ‘n maatjie” (a jacket for a friend). In the words of the camp director, Tekkies Kotze, “The kids went crazy!” and besides jackets, all kinds of clothing and shoes, even curtains and a few blankets and pillows, were carted down from Gauteng and delivered to the freshStart Recycle Swop-Shop’s storage container.

As part of their 25th celebrations, the Voortrekkers had a BIG party on Friday (07/07). Two long strips of white cloth (each 128m in length) were staked down the middle between two rows of tents. It took 20 minutes to get 534 children seated in 4 rows beside the “table”. Plates contained an iced cookie, a small box of Smarties, a packet of NikNaks, a lollypop, a “Swartvlei 25” badge and a memorial cup filled with fruit juice. After two short speeches and a prayer, the adults served the children hot dogs and more juice. Popular Afrikaans music was thumping through the loudspeakers and after all had eaten, some of the children danced to the catchy beat.

It was to this wonderful party that a group of our SwopShop children were invited. “When you have a party, you invite some friends”, and the Voortrekkers wanted to invite local kids to the party.” Not only did the Voortrekkers send one of their busses to collect us in Smutsville, they also entertained our children at the Caravan Park before lunch, presenting them with fleece beanies and a bag full of creative activities.

After the meal, the children could enjoy a variety of jumping castles which were scattered across the camp grounds. There were also two machines providing free candy floss! “Our” children could not believe their luck!! After they had been jumping, candy flossing and playing soccer, the kids moved to the far side of the camp ground where there was “wet fun” to be had with the older campers (and their invited friends.) They disappeared in the soap foam on the one side, and then ran, soap suds flying in the wind, to slide down the slip and slides next to it.

The sun was going down behind the dune and the campers were called to go and shower. It took us a good half an hour to get all our kids together, changed into dry clothing and each reunited with their shoes and sweaters. Once all were in the bus, we sang our “baie dankie liedjie” (thank you very much song) to those who so generously treated us to an unforgettable day of food and fun.

Leticia’s Story

Leticia, is one of our wonderful, young volunteers. This is her story, why she enjoys being a volunteer.

Roleese is a tiny girl with a very loud voice. When standing in the line, waiting for her card, she always makes herself heard. One day my sister, Jeanette, asked her, quietly, if she knew another girl’s surname. Roleese declared, turning to the girl, grinning: “Ek weet nie wat’s haar van nie, hoe’s jou van?!”  (“I don’t know her surname – so what’s your surname?”) Roleese may have a big mouth, but she’s got a big heart to match. She came and gave me a hug one Wednesday and snuggled onto my lap, announcing that I was her ‘Ma.’ I felt very honoured. Volunteering at freshStart is so, so rewarding.

When First Aid has ‘HEART’ by Sunyata Choyce

Canadian Sunyata Choyce is one of our new volunteers who visits freshStart regularly when she is in S.A. Sunyata is also founder director at C.O.L.O.R. International, a Canada based charity. She has donated much towards the First Aid kit and it is special to see her interaction action with the children. Here is her story and SwopShop experience:

“It’s wonderful to find more and more charity based projects taking on this extra much needed basic health care element. I have the blessing of being the SwopShop ‘First Aider’ on my visits – seeing to the wounds, cuts and skin infections of the children after they have exchanged their recycled material for treasures in the shop. “This one fell” exclaimed a volunteer, bringing me a 7 year old boy wrapped up in a beautiful warm dressing gown, he had just purchased. Although the sore on his head was the most apparent, the big wounds on his arms and legs were covered with old pus-soaked bandages and were clearly infected and ‘stuck’.   We sat him down to clean, treat and redress his wounds. He was very brave as he sat with us, knowing we were helping him. Along came a granola bar to keep his mind off his wounds as he was being treated. We gave him extra bandages to take home and suggested he go to the clinic. We told him he had a brave heart as I painted a bright red heart on his face from a donated lipstick. He smiled and went on his way. The children quickly learnt that many ‘hearts’ were being given out. Yep…. now the First Aid station also turned into the face painting station!

U ROCK the SHOP Awards

Let us never forget our fabulous Volunteers. freshStart, being a non-profit organisation, could never function without the commitment and dedication of our precious volunteers and helpers.

In May, we presented the first “U Rock the Shop” awards to some of our volunteers who, in some way or other make such a big difference to our Recycle Swop Shop.

The first recipient, Rejoice Gawie is like the sun… he has been around since the inception of the SwopShop and he is always there. However, like the sun, he has the uncanny ability to disappear behind the clouds at the most inconvenient times. Then, fortunately when one really needs him, he comes shining through with his disarming smile, knowing ways and buckets of energy and enthusiasm!

Lindiwe Nyenge came with celebratory ululu-ing to receive her little trophy (also recycled!). Lindiwe speaks Xhosa and English, as well as Afrikaans, skills highly valued at the SwopShop. She has recently learned to assist the children with their shopping and is doing a fabulous job. As such she has received a special award for Great Personal Shopper.

And then there is Martie Rooi, the First Aid lady of Smutsville, and our 1st Lady. Martie has always been a source of wisdom and help to freshStart. With an eagle’s eye, she scans the row of children and calls those with sores, cuts or scabies to her chair where she treats them with first aid medicines donated by Colours International and the Sedgefield Clinic. For her excellent work, Martie has received an award as our 1st First Aid Lady and as a tremendous role model.

There is Irene, who was a super help sorting out the storerooms. Irene also got our blanket-project going and turns up every Wednesday, helping with our setting up and pack up. With German precision, (Irene is an overseas visitor) she notices things that need changing and is great at spotting the children that cough too much – she is like an extra set of eyes and ears around the shop.

We have Pat who is willing to do “absolutely anything”. She was the next link in the blanket-project chain; teaching the craft ladies to do the edging and new designs. Pat was also key to sorting out our ineffective system for registering new children, she also made the lovely bunting for the SlowFest (now used at the swop shop), Pat has prepared the supplies for making Mother’s Day cards, and helped sort out the piles of donated fabric.

Thank you volunteers, the SwopShop would not exist without you!

Thank you to everyone: those helping to run the shop, the sewing ladies, the volunteers developing Kids Corner and Wednesday Club, and to Interwaste. YOU enable us to open shop, and some of you simply ROCK THE SHOP! We are immensely grateful for all the help given by kind-hearted people who share our vision of helping others to help themselves. Every volunteer makes the Swop Shop happen, but some also work hard behind the scenes. The “U Rock the Shop” awards are just a small way of saying: “Thank you, we appreciate what you do.”