South Africa: Chic hotels donate their used sheets to make school uniforms

Luxury hotels get rid of their linens before they show the slightest sign of wear and tear. In Cape Town they find a second wind, transformed into uniform shirts for children from poor neighbourhoods.

Danolene Johannesen brings thousands of salvaged sheets to her company’s sewing workshop to make the crisp white shirts for South African schoolchildren to wear. “We wanted to find a way to keep our kids in school and boost their self-esteem”explains this round-faced woman.

Since 2015, his Restore SA project has clothed nearly 100,000 children from old linen. A single double bed can be used to make five shirts. Public schools are imposing uniforms in an attempt, at least somewhat, to erase the deep and glaring inequalities in the country. From the most affluent suburbs to the poorest slums, primary school children wear white shirts, gray shorts or skirts, and knee socks.

But in the most underprivileged families, these simple outfits cost way too much. And South Africa’s unemployment rate of over 35% has been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the popular neighborhood of Tamboerskloof, Pamela Nayler runs the Parker Cottage, an intimate hotel on a gentle slope overlooking the ocean. The crisp beds are covered with rows of thick pillows. Sheets must be changed frequently to meet the expectations of discerning customers.

“Our linen supplier told us about the project. Now we donate our sheets to make schoolboy shirts”she explains.

Nearly 200 km away, in Bonnievale, Lemiese Pieterse takes her daughter to school, a simple blue building with a modest garden, in much better condition than many other schools in South Africa. Life is expensive and the shirts offered during an association distribution make a big difference. Especially since no one can notice the slightest difference from store-bought shirts.

“I am very lucky, I feel blessed”the young woman slips with emotion.


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