Heroes Jane MacKenzie – “If we work together we can make a difference in the lives of ordinary people”
Many great stories begin with ‘It was on a dark and stormy night…’ and this tale begins in similar fashion. Caitlin MacKenzie (Jane’s daughter) tells of their first visit to Van Reenen in 200000. “We’d left late and were pleased we had booked to stay at Oban Farm Rock House, until we hit the bumpy dirt road in the dark in our low slung urban Chrysler. We wondered if we’d make it, so were thrilled when we saw the farmhouse lights. Then mum sat up until 2 in the morning dreaming up schemes with Kim, and Oban has been home from home ever since.”
There can be no doubt that the Beads of Hope project run by Jane McKenzie and her partner Kim Strubenn has made a big impact in Van Reenen. Kim understood how impoverished the community in and around Van Reenen was and how few opportunities there were. Jane realised that there was an opportunity to make a real difference in marginalised communities.
Many years ago, in Johannesburg, the child of Jane’s domestic worker was turned away from the clinic with her 3 month old baby and told “go, we have no medicine”. Her baby died in her arms on the way home. This horror galvanised Jane who believes that we all have a unique fingerprint – a special place on earth. It became obvious to her that this was part of a chain of family dysfunction. Often mothers were not at home looking after their children because they had to find work. In her anger, she had a vision of women in dark huts, surrounded by empty plates and hungry, crying children. This soon evolved into a picture of light and laughter as someone bought an angel… So Beads of Hope was born, with the the tag line – Be and Angel, Buy and Angel, Feed and Angel. Kim sent out word into the community asking would like to receive beading training. They were overwhelmed at the response and humbled by the enthusiasm, realising the enormity of the need in Van Reenen. Jane recalls one woman crying when she arrived at her home “Mama, I have been sick and praying. Here you come and bring us work”. Over the past years 260 women (and a few men) have been trained to make angels.
“Our intention is not to give hand-outs, it was about changing lives and attitudes.” This sort of upliftment fits perfectly into the N3TC Touching Lives campaign and together they run an annual Christmas Campaign.
Dudu Hlongwane is one of the project group leaders. She has 9 dependants and is able to make 5 angels a day in-between taking care of everyone. The income earned from these angels makes a substantial difference to the economic wellbeing of the family. “Ngiyathanda, ngiyajabula futhi” she says with a grin, adding that she really likes to be able to work at home and keep an eye on the kids. She also makes pinafores, as her grandmother taught her, which she sells in the community. Kim adds “Dudu is a star, I couldn’t do this without her. She keeps records of the beads distributed, who has made what, and is my link to Enthokozweni.
Jane’s goal is to sell one million angels a year. Never one to give up, she is absolutely determined to make this happen. Her new website has a shopping cart and invites purchasers to tell their “Angel Stories”. Who has done something extra special for you? Not only does Jane believe in miracles, she is working to make them happen. “Sometimes someone can just smile at you and change your day” she says, “So we need to create a platform to share all the positive messages and generate as much business as possible.”
She believes that if we all work together – this project can grow exponentially. “I’m happy to do as much as I can to make this work and feel pretty sure that it will. Who has more faith – the person praying for rain or the one ploughing the field?” Jane has faith. Check out www.africangifts.co.za