There is this wonderful story by anthropologist, educator and philosopher, Loren Eiseley, about a young man on a beach throwing stranded starfish back into the ocean.
When asked by Eiseley why he was doing it, the young man said the starfish would die if they did not get back in the water. Eiseley thought he was foolish and told him there were thousands of starfish on miles of beach, one man alone could not make a difference. The young man smiled as he tossed another starfish into the ocean. “It makes a difference for this one,” he said.
And this is what Vivian Law, humanitarian and champion for children and forgotten communities without a voice, is doing – making a difference in someone’s life every day. She has established a youth development centre for children in informal settlements, giving them a purpose and opportunities to create a meaningful future with dreams and possibilities. “I know it is an impossible vision to help everyone, but if I can make a difference in just some of these children’s lives, I can go to my death bed knowing I did what I could to heal our country and our world,’ she says.
Vivan, with a degree in languages and literature, studied broadcasting and drama in America, but then went into the money world as a financial consultant and broker. “I know, I know,’ she laughs. “And then I became a farmer in Hartbeespoort eight years ago, growing pecan nuts, peppers and chilies!” It was here that her life took a completely different direction.
“It was amazing to see how these children changed during the course of the preparation for the show.”
Working on the farm in the Broederstroom area where the Schaumburg informal settlement is located, Vivan was in regular contact with the residents and she became aware of their plight. No access to water, unemployment, hunger, lack of medical care… but to her, one of the most pressing needs was the children wandering aimlessly around in the settlement, young teenage girls getting pregnant and the general lack of support for these children.
“At the time I attended a personal transformational workshop during which I audited my life and I came out there with a very concrete purpose and vision: How do I heal my country? Politics don’t work, it is too far from the ground.”
She formed a non-profit company with the aim of working with communities on the ground. “My first task was to sit with the leaders in these communities and identify the most pressing problems. Water was the most crucial issue for the people.”
Vivian started lobbying the relevant government departments for more than a year, receiving promises but no action. Two years ago she had had enough of these lip services and she started fundraising with a vengeance. “I begged everywhere and within a year we could start on the water project and it literally took us a month to drill for water, lay the piping and finally giving the community water. All at half the price the Madibeng municipality estimated!”
She then turned her attention to the pressing matter of the young children and youth in the community. “It deeply concerned me that there were so many children running around with nothing to do and no schooling.” Vivian got involved with Lee den Hond, founder of the organisation Field of Dreams, who started a epic fundraising journey to build a child development centre in the area by becoming the third South African woman to summit Mount Everest in honour of the cause.
“However, the youth also needed intervention. There were pregnant young girls, teenagers with nothing to do and not going to school. I started youth projects, gave yoga classes and in February decided we needed a programme for these young people. We needed to educate them on their rights and responsibilities as enshrined in our constitution in a way that they could understand. I got together with actor and singer Erik Holm and our musical production, all about the constitution and their rights, was born.”
Vivian and Erik gathered together children between the ages of 14 and 28 from the informal settlement and set to work on a unique musical production with the help of accomplished musicians. The show was received with great enthusiasm and they now want to introduce it to other underprivileged schools in order for them to do the same.
“It was amazing to see how these children changed during the course of the preparation for the show. Shy children who did not want to speak, are now clowns on stage and won’t stop talking,” she laughs.
This has motivated her even more in her quest to build a youth centre. “I am trying to get the water money we raised back from the municipality in order to buy a piece of land for such a centre. There are approximately 30 school leavers in the community every year with nowhere to go. I want to create job opportunities by teaching these young people skills they would otherwise not have access to.”
She plans a centre that would offer media online facilities, a chef school and restaurant, sport facilities, drama and arts and crafts workshops, to name but a few. “I am begging again. I want to buy that land and realise this vision for the children. They need it so much, and I need it. My work here validates my life. I finally feel I have a purpose. And remember, one starfish at a time…”
Contact Vivian on 082 788 0081.