can cre­ate pros­per­ity Chil­dren at Play: lo­cal farm char­ity with global im­pact

Farmer's Weekly (South Africa) - - Contents - FW

Grow­ing up on a farm gave Lion du Plessis in­sight into the prob­lems faced by farm­work­ers. But after study­ing hu­man rights he gained an even deeper un­der­stand­ing of these is­sues, which spurred him on to cre­ate a char­ity that up­lifts ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. Lindi Botha re­ports.

Backed by a highly im­pres­sive ar­ray of qual­i­fi­ca­tions in law, higher ed­u­ca­tion, fi­nan­cial plan­ning, hu­man rights and project man­age­ment, Lion du Plessis led a suc­cess­ful cor­po­rate ca­reer in Gaut­eng. But pe­ri­od­i­cally re­turn­ing to his fam­ily on the farm near Ermelo, Mpumalanga, where he grew up, he wit­nessed the plight of the ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and felt a need to do more to up­lift these peo­ple.

“Study­ing hu­man rights was a bit of a turn­ing point and re­ally gave me a dif­fer­ent view of life. It helped give me in­sight into the less for­tu­nate,” he says.

In 2009, Du Plessis launched the Chil­dren at Play ([email protected]) char­ity, ini­tially with the aim of get­ting work­ers’ chil­dren liv­ing on the farm ac­tive and in­volved in sport.

“I be­lieve sport can go a long way to­wards teach­ing dis­ci­pline and there­fore aid­ing in busi­ness, so it seemed like a good place to start,” he says.

The ven­ture was then ex­tended to pro­vide sta­tionery for the school­child­ren.

“Many fam­i­lies can’t pro­vide sta­tionery, and the schools usu­ally have lim­ited re­sources. We’re so of­ten shocked that some of the chil­dren don’t even have one pen with which to write. Sup­ply­ing them each with their own sta­tionery pack not only gives them the abil­ity to take part in school­work, it mo­ti­vates them to work harder for suc­cess.”

In 2012, Du Plessis moved back to Ermelo to farm, and along­side his farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties con­tin­ued ex­pand­ing [email protected] To­day, it com­prises sev­eral fo­cus ar­eas to pro­vide for a range of needs in ru­ral and less for­tu­nate com­mu­ni­ties. As a reg­is­tered non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion, it re­lies on the sup­port of vol­un­teers, spon­sors and donors. Du Plessis be­lieves that through [email protected], chil­dren from all back­grounds can ac­quire the tools to de­velop and grow up to be re­spon­si­ble, pro­duc­tive cit­i­zens. He takes his role as a farmer and his re­spon­si­bil­ity to­wards the greater farm­ing com­mu­nity very se­ri­ously.

“The char­ity has opened my eyes to re­alise that life is not just about me and work­ing hard so that I can go on hol­i­day or buy a new bakkie. There are many peo­ple that we as farm­ers have an in­flu­ence over. We sup­port over 100 peo­ple through the farm alone, so it can’t just be about me. I must en­sure my farm is suc­cess­ful be­cause their suc­cess is de­pen­dent on my suc­cess.”

Ex­pan­sion

[email protected] has ex­panded over the years to in­clude a num­ber of di­vi­sions.

[email protected] Ed­u­ca­tion pro­vides se­lected chil­dren with bur­saries to at­tend bet­ter schools and ob­tain ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion. Du Plessis be­lieves this is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant as chil­dren who show a drive to suc­ceed in life should not be ig­nored.

“They de­serve a fair chance at reach­ing their goals,” he says.

[email protected] Sport has been broad­ened to mo­ti­vate chil­dren to lead healthy, ac­tive life­styles.

“We be­lieve an ac­tive child is a healthy child, and a healthy child is in a bet­ter po­si­tion to per­form to the best of his or her abil­ity. Sport can also pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for chil­dren to fur­ther their ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reers through sports bur­saries in schools and uni­ver­si­ties. Ac­tive in­volve­ment in sport also keeps chil­dren off the street and pre­vents them from get­ting up to mis­chief.”

The char­ity dis­trib­utes sport equip­ment such as soc­cer and net­ball balls to chil­dren in dis­ad­van­taged ar­eas and those liv­ing in ex­treme poverty. It also ar­ranges coach­ing clin­ics.

[email protected] Min­istries pro­vides printed and au­dio Bibles to il­lit­er­ate com­mu­ni­ties.

The au­dio books are charged by us­ing a built-in so­lar panel and can be or­dered in al­most any African lan­guage. Du Plessis es­ti­mates that each Bi­ble reaches about 50 peo­ple, as fam­i­lies in com­mu­ni­ties share them.

“We also dis­trib­ute Bibles to the shear­ing teams that shear our Meri­nos twice a year, and they take them home to their fam­i­lies when they leave,” says Du Plessis.

‘ chil­dren de­serve a fair chance at reach­ing their goals’

[email protected] Food sup­plies nu­tri­tional food to those in need, es­pe­cially chil­dren who are still de­vel­op­ing and grow­ing.

“We also pro­vide ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties such as blan­kets, bean­ies, scarves, clothes, toi­letries and wa­ter pu­ri­fiers. These are ba­sic things we take for granted, yet the re­al­ity is that thou­sands of peo­ple are try­ing to sur­vive with­out them,” says Du Plessis.

[email protected] Health has joined hands with CANSA (the Can­cer As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa) to help chil­dren with can­cer and chil­dren af­fected by can­cer. The or­gan­i­sa­tion fo­cuses on cre­at­ing aware­ness of can­cer, can­cer pre­ven­tion, and sup­port­ing can­cer sur­vivors. It do­nates pros­thet­ics to af­fected chil­dren whose fam­i­lies are not in a po­si­tion to af­ford them.

Other ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude pro­vid­ing mos­quito nets to needy fam­i­lies in malar­i­aaf­fected ar­eas and en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple in cholera-af­fected ar­eas to be aware of the risks and dan­gers, and to drink and use clean wa­ter at all times.

[email protected] In­ter­na­tional is where all the projects come to­gether to help make a dif­fer­ence world­wide. “[email protected] is based in South Africa, but we know that the ba­sic prob­lems ex­pe­ri­enced here are also a re­al­ity in other coun­tries, es­pe­cially in Africa. Of­ten, in­stead of go­ing on hol­i­day, we go to a neigh­bour­ing coun­try and ex­tend our char­ity work to those com­mu­ni­ties. Swazi­land, Namibia, Bu­rundi and Botswana are some of the coun­tries we’ve ex­tended the pro­gramme to.”

Du Plessis says the con­tacts he made dur­ing his cor­po­rate ca­reer in Jo­han­nes­burg have come in handy. “Know­ing the right peo­ple has made it eas­ier to get buy-in and as­sis­tance for projects, es­pe­cially where we have to trans­port the do­na­tions to places such as Bu­rundi or the Congo.”

Con­nect­ing the world

Du Plessis’s wife, Adele, is ac­tively in­volved in run­ning the char­ity, and their two chil­dren, Lara, 3, and Mia, 1, are taken along to the out­reach days.

“It’s im­por­tant that they’re ex­posed to those who are less for­tu­nate than them­selves and have a dif­fer­ent point of view in life. It just makes one a bet­ter per­son to get another per­spec­tive.”

Du Plessis has taken the char­ity one step fur­ther and de­vel­oped a project that con­nects chil­dren in South Africa with those in the US.

“Chil­dren all over the world lead stress­ful lives. Re­gard­less of their cir­cum­stances, they have many things in com­mon, in­clud­ing at­tend­ing school, home­work, pres­sure to per­form, and per­sonal prob­lems. “Through the Sky-Pals project, we want them to re­alise they’re not alone and si­mul­ta­ne­ously shift their fo­cus be­yond their own cir­cum­stances.”

Du Plessis notes that some of the chil­dren [email protected] works with in the ru­ral ar­eas in South Africa have never been to the near­est town. They are con­fined to their vil­lage as only the par­ents can af­ford to go to town to do their monthly shop­ping.

“These chil­dren face a lot of cul­tural pres­sure, in­clud­ing pres­sure to fall preg­nant so they can be­come a source of in­come through so­cial grant money and be­ing co­erced to get mar­ried at a young age.

As a re­sult, they don’t fin­ish school and just fall into the same neg­a­tive rou­tine as their par­ents. The mo­ti­va­tion they get through in­ter­act­ing with peo­ple in dif­fer­ent coun­tries helps them re­alise there’s more to life.

in­ter­na­tional out­reach

“In re­turn, chil­dren liv­ing in de­vel­oped coun­tries have the op­por­tu­nity to learn more about the African cul­ture, de­velop emo­tional in­tel­li­gence, and re­alise there’s a whole world out there from which they can learn. The hope is also that the ex­pe­ri­ence will fur­ther mo­ti­vate chil­dren to con­tinue with ‘world chang­ing’ ac­tiv­i­ties through­out their lives.”

Sky-Pals uses Skype to con­nect chil­dren at­tend­ing a school in South Africa with will­ing and in­ter­ested school­child­ren abroad. The in­ter­ac­tion is mon­i­tored on both sides and the chil­dren are guided to mo­ti­vate, in­spire, sup­port, chal­lenge and get to know on another. Per­haps most im­por­tantly, it gives them the op­por­tu­nity to make life­long friends all over the world.

• To find out more about Chil­dren at Play, email Lion du Plessis at li­ondu­p­[email protected]­hoo.com or visit chil­drenat­play.org.za.

• Read about Lion du Plessis’s Merino farm­ing busi­ness on pg 76 of this is­sue.

Chil­dren at Play do­nated lap desks to the Umz­imvelo Agri­cul­tural School in Mpumalanga.

Pho­tos: Lion du Plessis

On an out­reach ex­cur­sion to Botswana, Chil­dren at Play do­nated toys and clothes to un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren.

Lion du Plessis

ABOVE: Chil­dren in Klip­town, Soweto, with the toys given to them by Chil­dren at Play.

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