By NANZA PLATANA
It’s cold and soft rain pours on a Somerset Heights street – but as soon as the gate opens at Serelda Caiger’s family home, I am enveloped by warmth.
Caiger – kind and soft but powerful and passionate – ushers me into her garage.
As I enter, I am met with various colourful dresses, a few suits, and boxes galore in all shapes and sizes. All these items and boxes hang neatly on the walls, while some are tucked into the corners. My eyes wander. I see pictures of Caiger’s matric dance and a sign: “Makhanda Matric Wardrobe”.
The seeds of Makhanda Matric Wardrobe (MMW) were sown in 1993 when Caiger’s former Grade 1 teacher travelled with her from Tulbagh to Paarl to help get material for a dress and help her fit it. From this moment, Caiger knew she wanted to give back – and on an even bigger scale.
At MMW, one can loan an outfit for free. Simply contact Caiger, and she will quiz you on size, style, colour, photography and make-up. She will also try to get to know you to help you find the best possible dress or suit – an outfit that will make you feel like royalty for your matric dance.
She will hold your hand and ease your stress so you can embrace the moment.
“From 1993 until 2022, I’ve been helping young girls. It’s always been girls because you know I could help them with nails and make-up and photography and dresses,” Caiger says.
She says it was easy to help because, in addition to her collection of dresses, she knew other women prepared to donate clothing and assist with make-up and shoes.
The initiative has sprinkled sunshine in the lives of several young men and women who struggle to afford expensive clothing, jewellery, photography and transport for their matric dance.
“In the past, we have helped kids in Makhanda from PJ Olivier, and we helped a girl in Tulbagh. This year we helped two Ntsika pupils, one young woman from PJ Olivier, and we are hoping to help a couple of boys and girls from Mary Waters,” Caiger said.
I am her assistant on this day. She shows me a picture of a girl who has reached out to her for assistance in preparing for the Mary Waters Matric Farewell. She rummages deep in her boxes finding a colour to complement her skin and size to match her body shape. She moves on to shoes and accessories.
I am in awe. She goes out of her way to ensure the outfit will boost the girl’s confidence for her special day.
Caiger wears many hats. She is a professional nurse, a member of the Rotary Club, a mother of three and a wife.
Her children have adopted her community service hat. Her eldest, Quinlan, is the founder of Quinlan’s Men, a programme that mentors young men.
The family’s example has inspired community members. She recites a long list of contributions: some have organised transport for matric dances, others have collected bags of clothing.
“It’s amazing how caring our town is,” she says. People are inspired to have a look in their cupboards to find items that will delight someone else. “This is why the initiative has progressed, and we can sustain it.”
There is so much more that Caiger wants to do in the community beyond the Matric Dance Wardrobe – like teach young people etiquette, how to change tyres, make a fire, practice self-love, sew, be a positive parent and do first-aid.
She wants young people to acquire skills that will set them up for brighter and more holistic futures. This programme is in the making. It is starting slowly, with Caiger asking community members to be guest speakers and to contribute to transport and food for events.
I fold dresses with Makhanda’s fairy godmother. We pair them with shoes and pack the items into a big blue box ready for a fitting that will happen at Mary Waters.
Caiger needs our help. She needs more suits, and help with make-up and transport. Her most urgent plea is for a cupboard to preserve the clothing. “Thank you to everybody who has been so amazing in giving,” she says.
She wants matric students to know they can always reach out to her.
I leave the Caiger family home feeling very full – with purpose and the urge to contribute to the community. In my head, I keep saying, “When I grow up, I want to be Serelda Caiger.”