07 Sep South Africans taking on challenges for charity
South Africans Taking On Challenges For Charity
Women’s month may have just passed, but that doesn’t mean we need to stop celebrating the amazing contributions made by South African women.
In the hubbub of the past 20 months’ events some matters which may otherwise have been considered crucial have been placed on the backburner. Our lives have changed gears and focus to address the challenges of lockdown, health, income, changing lifestyles and jobs, homeschooling, illness and grief.
Amid the turmoil, we tend to forget that there are still very real issues which need addressing and intervention. And in our personal isolation we also forget that we as individuals can make a difference in the world.
Which is exactly what Bianca Silberbauer has shown South Africans this past month.
Run for Cheetahs
While we’ve all been cooped up at home, Bianca took on an incredible 850 km run of SA coastline from Cape Point to Namibia to raise funds for Cheetah conservation, the Wildlife ACT Fund and the Cheetah Conservation fund.
Bianca’s love for nature translated into an MSc in Animal Science with a focus on the game industry, and a position as Outdoor Education assistant at Woodridge College.
Like so many of us, however, the challenges presented in the past few years made her question her direction in life and role in the bigger picture. As physical and abstract borders between individuals and communities locked down, Bianca considered how she could overcome the barriers now placed on her pursuit of a career in conservation. And through this self-examination she came to realise that although new professional prospects may not be on the cards at present, this should not deter her from immersing herself in this love of conservation.
Caption: Bianca Silberbauer. Photographer: Devin Trull
Lockdown has, after all, muted conversations around the welfare of the planet and its numerous species whose plight cannot be heard without deliberate effort from humans.
Running in others’ shoes
But Bianca and her team are not the first South African to take on such trials for charity. Braam Malherbe’s name always comes to mind when we consider such efforts. At the age of 17 – having not run more than 10 km in one fell swoop – Braam undertook a 11-day run covering 532 km from Plettenberg Bay to
Braam Malherbe: #DOT
Cape Town to raise awareness and raise funds for an environmental impact assessment for the proposed solid jetty which was to be constructed in Langebaan lagoon.
At age 31, he undertook a similar challenge, running 620 km from Tsitsikamma National Park to Table Mountain National Park to raise awareness and funds for anti-poaching efforts. Braam, alongside David Grier, were the first and only people to ever run the entire length of the Great Wall of China; a total of 4 218 km, although the intact wall is only estimated to be 3 515 km. Braam has subsequently undertaken numerous other physical feats to raise awareness for conservation, humanitarian plights and motivate others who feel stuck in a rut.
His #DOT (Do One Thing) initiative has a simple and valuable message, one which could be readily transposed onto initiatives like Bianca’s: we can all do one thing, every day, to make a difference in society, nature, and our own lives.
Ann Jangle: African Dream Parade
Free-spirited and fun-loving Ann Jangle is not what most people will have described as a dedicated athlete before xxxx. And yet Ann undertook a journey of roughly 5 000 km cycling from South Africa to Kenya on her own – a mere week after learning how to change a bicycle tyre for the first time in her life.
Caption: Ann Jangle
A bit of a jetsetter, Ann’s journey was sparked by her dog, Kevin, whom she adopted on her return to SA after a stint in Germany. Kevin the catalyst which ignited her belief in our intrinsic connection to animals and the earth, and this connection prompted her to journey through Africa to teach people about wildlife. But first she had to shift her focus. Domestic animals aren’t a big consideration for most people in Africa – though some of it is cultural, this is predominantly due to socio-economic conditions. One cannot expect people who live hand-to-mouth to understand the plight of animals kept as pets.
The premise: raising awareness for the plight of Wild Dogs and Vultures while uplifting communities through music.
Music? Yes, that’s right – Ann’s dayjob is making music.
Caption: Ann Jangle’s African Dream Parade.
Like Braam before her, and Bianca after, Ann didn’t ask ‘should I?’ but ‘how do I?’. With a custom road guitar, a sponsored bicycle and no experience with long-distance cycling, crossing multiple borders over a vast distance in Africa, living on the side of the road, connecting with different cultures, languages and people on their own terms Ann set off on a 7 month journey, woman alone.
Caption: Ann educates children about conservation through music
Her heart panged she entrusted her dogs to friends before her journey. Although she’d previously completed a 23 0000 km tour criss-crossing South Africa with her trumpet player Keegan Steenkamp and sound guru Mike Hunter to collect 3 tonnes of dog food for welfare societies, that experience was completely eclipsed by the coming solo journey.
Pushing limits for a purpose
Our swift summaries of the feats undertaken by our fellow South Africans serve as mere euphemisms to the trials they have faced. It’s impossible to condense the actual physiological and mental requirements, tests and experiences people like Bianca, Braam and Ann have endured into a few sentences.
Braam has noted the pain of physical exertion, and mentions an instance where the two runners became delirious with the onset of hypothermia atop the Great Wall. Ann notes the rough ‘quarters’ she had to find along the way – sleeping in ruins or under trees; hungry, exhausted and alone. Bianca pushed through the pain of achilles tendinitis to prepare for her journey. The physical, mental and emotional effort required to push on seems to elude most of us.
Caption: Bianca on the road to Namibia.
And yet, although these feats feel reserved for the purported paragons of perseverance – a closer look at the persons who undertake such trials of endurance shows ordinary people like ourselves; individuals who’d happened upon a fork in the road and took the road less traveled.
We tend to associate tales of superhuman survival with narrative of accident and brave; people who are stranded, lost, stuck or injured through a series of unfortunate events or rescue others from such predicaments. But then we get stories like these, of people opt into such trials by choice. Why?
Wim Hoff on the value of pushing limits
The world has become somewhat besotted with Wim Hof of late given his methods of self-motivation, but many articles or discussions around the Wim Hof method overlook this important question; why?
Known as the Iceman, Hof has broken a number of records and achieved things believed to be impossible. He climbed the Mount Kilimanjaro wearing nothing but shorts, ran a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot, spent 112 minutes immersed in a container filled with ice, holds the Guinness World Record for the furthest swim under ice, and he ran shirtless through the Namib desert without drinking a drop of water. It’s therefore no surprise that the media fixates on the physicality and mental focus of his feats.
But the ‘why?’ of Wim’s achievements is the thing which catalysed his immersion in such extreme events in the first place. The thing which sparked his passion for physical feats was not the pursuit of human resilience. Iit was his wife’s suicide which prompted these unusual pastimes.
Amid the grief, he wanted to understand his wife’s pain. While visiting the park one day, Hof found himself overlooking the icy cold waters, and instinctually waded into them.
As Wim settled into those frosty waters he was struck with two realisations:
- The mental focus one enters when the elements assault your body mutes the emotional pain and grief you carry around.
- No amount of physical pain or exertion could trump the pain felt by his wife, or others living a similar existence of mental anguish.
The latter convinced him to help others overcome their own traumas.
Braam Malherbe’s own narrative preceding his Great Wall of China pursuit reflects this sentiment. He’d been battling personal demons around his complicated family life and was seeking answers to guide the direction of his life. Bianca had questioned her role and procrastination in reaching her goals due to societal restrictions and realised that she could make a difference despite these limitations. Ann had come to realise that her talents could serve a greater purpose than mere entertainment, and that she wanted to invest her time in making a difference.
As Braam states in his book The Great Run:
“If you let fear in, its roots grow really fast, anchoring around your heart and slowly suffocating your spirit. In extreme cases , ordinary stresses of life manifest themselves in diseases like depression, cancer, heart attacks and strokes. But for most people caught in the daily grind of life, it leads to a sense of emptiness – a mid-life crisis, the sense of a life not spent but wasted. Maybe this is the ‘original sin’ that will trip us up for not following our hearts and leading full and happy lives. I once heard a wonderful definition of Hell: arriving at the end of your life and meeting the person who you could have been.”
Facing our fears
In the last year and three quarters, fear has systematically wound its vines around our society, both locally and as a whole – suffocating us in its tightening grip and perforating the fragile bonds of human coexistence. Amid the shared trauma of restricted movement, the imposition of regulated conduct, fear of illness, loss of income, families bundled into confined spaces for long periods, grief and loss, polarised views and bickering our individual fears also incubate in these isolated silos of our existence.
But the mountains we face in our personal lives are equally surmountable and impermanent as those physical landscapes conquered by individuals undertaking these physical trials, and we are just as capable of achieving the supposed unachievable.
Perhaps a starting point for our own journeys is the realisation that we can achieve far more if we focus outside ourselves and set goals which will uplift others. It is far easier to backtrack or throw in the towel when the end-goal is purely for our own gain and pleasure. When we commit to causes which champion the needs of other individuals, communities, cultures, animals, plants, biomes or ecosystems (or, to be blunt, the very future of our planet) we become better, stronger, more resilient, more empowered and less self-absorbed. Our capacity for greatness is burgeoned by communal goals. We are energised by the vision of palpable positive change in the world.
But what do we achieve?
It’s logical to ask what the purpose of such pursuits are. Does the outcome justify the effort?
Can one person truly effect lasting change by running, cycling, rowing, climbing or swimming vast distances? Can a sole individual advocating for a cause really be heard over the incessant noise of global dissent?
The answer is yes and no.
In the early 2000’s US-Egyptian conservation biologist Dr Leela Hazzah conceptualised the Lion Guardians initiative. Following the rapid decline in lion populations in Kenya, Dr Hazzah realised that an unconventional solution was needed, so she did what most people thought to be impossible; she approached the lion’s greatest enemy for assistance. She turned hunters into conservationists.
The Maasai of Kenya have maintained their heritage and cultural norms for eons. Among these was the belief that the lions who hunt those Kenyan plains are villians meant for slaying, and that lion kills were one of the greatest honours for young men.
It’s difficult to step into such an established and insular culture as an outsider and preach a message which counters traditional norms. Such undertakings have also been quite invasive throughout history as they tend to supplant existing beliefs and rites with foreign narratives.
And yet…the programme was a success. It seems that it is possible to effect change as individuals – even in systems outside our frame of reference – but the crux is that our individual efforts are bolstered by the support and participation of others.
Despite the frenzied dissension, the nationalism, patriotism, racism, sexism and other -isms which divide us, the urge to care for each other and our environment is a primordial and ingrained instinct. The answer to homo sapiens’ rise to the top as apex predator of the modern day is our capacity for collaboration. Though we’re so used to seeing the contrary, empathy and cooperation are intrinsic to our nature.
Yes, we can achieve great things and make great waves as individuals, and no, we cannot create lasting progress without the buy-in of others.
In interviewing Bianca and Ann, both attest to the overwhelming support and spirit of giving they’d experienced along their journeys. Bianca speaks of South African generosity and the spirit of Ubuntu which came to her aid a few times along her journey. Ann insists that people across Africa are eager to give with open arms once they learn that you have no ulterior motives.
Braam states that although one generally commits to such trials to effect change in the world around you, the journey itself changes you. It strips you of the ego with which you embarked and leave you a different person.
Support your fellow saffas and their causes
While you mull over those hurdles you need to overcome in your personal life and consider what change you want to make in the world, why not support these South Africans and their causes in the interim.
Bianca Silberbauer: Run for Cheetahs
Ann Jangle: African Dream Odyssey
The sequel to African Dream Parad is Ann’s lovechild – African Dream Odyssey. Ann and her partner are relocating to Bagamoyo (meaning, ‘to lay your heart down’ in Swahili) in Tanzania to continue her conservation and upliftment efforts among African communities in need.
To support her cause, visit www.annjangle.com to donate via PayPal.
Caption: Ann Jangle teaching children about wildlife conservation through music.
If you want to Do One Thing to change the world for the better, use Braam’s hashtag #DOT to tell others about your efforts on social media.
We hope that all our readers are inspired to take charge, overcome and make those hard choices and changes which will change your own and others’ lives for the better.
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