The Hearts That Care

This year Women’s month in South Africa has passed in a haze of Covid-19 lockdowns, fear, tales of unending corruption, and muted concern over domestic violence.

I had a conversation many years ago with my then boss, Tars Makama. He and I had many interesting conversations. It was the era of apartheid, the atmosphere in our part of the world restless and unfair.

He made a remark that resounds in my heart until today: When the women of Africa arise, watch out!

The Women of Africa arose that day in August 1956 when 20,000 marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest the pass laws. Since then they have played an integral role in many aspects of African life all across the continent.

These past five months I’ve been humbled and blessed by the actions of a number of women, how they have dealt with the Covid pandemic. They are separated by a border, two countries, but the same heart of empathy and compassion that reaches out to touch others, to help them, beats within.

The first is a young lady I have known since she was a toddler, Jeanine von Wissell van Wyk. A few days after lockdown Jeanine called me to say she was deeply concerned about the poor in Eswatini. There are many poor and hungry people in that small Kingdom who struggle at the best of times, now with extended families faced with job losses, how would they live?

Jeanine had an idea that she wanted to pass by me. What an idea it was!

Jeanine is a horse-riding coach and the Technical Liaison on the committee of the Equestrian Federation of Eswatini, of which I am president. She wanted to do something that would help her peers, the riding community as well as the poor. Her plan benefited all. She wanted to ask the top Show Jumping Athletes around the world if they would agree to appear on a webinar, free of charge, allow her to sell tickets and have all the proceeds to go to charity.

She called it The Big Food Ride, designed a compelling logo, and went to work.

She wrote many letters, got no positive responses, until a young Irishman, Cian O’Connor, caught the flame of her vision, agreed to the proposal, and convinced a number of his friends to do likewise. Thus was set in place two seasons of six Webinars apiece where young and old, riders, officials and horse lovers alike got the chance to talk to, and learn from the best in the world, for a season ticket that cost little more than an hour’s tuition in the saddle. In other words, eminently affordable.

She has raised R126,000 so far, shared between five charities. What a win-win idea.

I have no idea what I am going to do on Monday nights after the last episode airs in a couple of weeks. It has been a wonderful journey for many of us, and, I believe, for the horsemen and women who so generously gave of their time, their talent, their experience, hearts to help those less fortunate. A generosity of spirit that deserves the most honourable of mentions.

My second tribute goes to a group of fourteen, sometimes fifteen, ladies who I have the privilege of leading in Bible Study each week. Our group ranges in age from late thirties to the eighties, and I am not talking about decades!

As we dispersed into isolation way back in March, there was much fear, especially amongst the over sixties. So many questions, so many concerns: would we see each other again? Would we see our children again? How would we manage with shopping and other needs?

A couple of weeks before lockdown we got news that the daughter of one of our number had pancreatic cancer. She couldn’t get a passport in time to get to her. All we could do was pray and support our friend. It was a tough journey, some days hopeful news, others the call would go out and as one we would pray. Sadly, the Lord took her home, and that day we cried together. What was extraordinary was the strength of our sister, the peace she felt underneath the sorrow, she was an example to all of us with her positivity, her grace and dignity in the face of tragedy.

We were led to Zoom. As one the ladies signed up, downloaded the app, lost their way, connected, faded, persevered until one Wednesday soon after lockdown we met for a virtual bible study. The relief and the joy of seeing each other radiated over the ethernet. These ladies proved that age is no hindrance to conquering the idiosyncrasies of technology.

We met each week until the day we could meet again in person, albeit masked and distanced.

These amazing women, from such diverse backgrounds, kept our WhatsApp group alive with chatter, serious and amusing, each person offering something: a word of encouragement; a song; a scripture; each concerned that every member of our group come through these times in one piece, stronger and better than when we went into isolation.

I was reminded of the story of the geese:

When geese fly in formation, they create their own unique form of teamwork. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in their ‘V’, the whole flock adds at least 71% more flying range than if each bird flew on its own. Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back in the ‘V’, and another goose flies point.

When a goose gets sick, or is wounded and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with their companion and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly, or until it dies, and only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with the group.

For five months this group took care of one another, and by extension, our families and friends.

This week we recorded our version of The Jerusalema Challenge, most of us managing to take part. Our routine is not perfect, but we had a lot of fun, rehearsing, putting it together, learning the routine, finding new ones, and finally recording it. Our older members took the back line We had two names for them: Corps de Aged or Corpse de Ballet.

Whatever, no one was being left out. What an example to those we hope to reach with the message of Christ’s love, the hope that we have in Him.

Ian van der Walt, a precious young man, was the videographer and editor, and he has done a great job.

Our oldest member gave us a name, Galaxy Girls, because she said we were like stars in the milky way, each a tiny pinprick of light, but together we make a bright show, a highway of stars. No matter how small your contribution, it is an important part of any whole, and the whole we are a part of is humanity.

Age, circumstance, situation mean nothing if you have the ability to rise above them.

The common denominator in both these stories is the unselfish consideration of others, being prepared to give time and effort to nurture and care for the lives around you.

Jeanine and the Galaxy Girls, I salute you this Women’s Month. You have done us proud!

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