INGRID LESTRADE , 37, was born and educated in the small farming town of Piketberg, South Africa, the third of four girls. For 16 years she has been a driving force at Goedgedacht (‘good thoughts’), a farm near Riebeek Kasteel which aims to bring hope to rural children through their Path Out of Poverty (POP) programme. Here she talks Thislife Online through a day in her life…
‘A path out of poverty is possible,’ says Ingrid Lestrade, who is helping change farm children’s lives  |  Photo: Tonya Hester

‘My ‘alarm’ rings at six every morning – it’s my mother! She calls without fail to check I’ve woken up and said my prayers – and if not, she says them with me. Every day I thank God for all I have, for the dreams I’ve achieved, and ask for guidance in my day ahead. I live at this beautiful farm so I walk to work. I love taking a detour for a quick visit to the pre-school on my way to the office. The bright faces give me a boost. We sing a song together at the top of our voices, and I’m ready for the day.

Once I’m at the office with my colleagues, there’s one constant on my mind: finding ways to break the cycle of poverty and hardship and provide a sense of hope and dignity amongst the youth. With so many hurdles to overcome – from overcrowded living conditions, unemployment and alcoholism to mental, physical and sexual abuse – everyone needs all the support they can get.

The good news is that in a community where 18 years ago, 95% of children dropped out in primary school, we’ve produced 156 children who have completed their matric. Of these, 98% are employed, and we’ve one child who came right through our programme from pre-school onwards and is completing her third year as a teacher student at Stellenbosch University! Two others have decided to join the police force, and another was awarded a sports scholarship and is doing so well.

generations can be transformed

It’s so wonderful to walk alongside children on their life journeys and see them grow into confident, bright-eyed, responsible young adults. It feels nice to know that, bit by bit, future generations can be transformed and are able to lift others up as they climb their ladders of success.

I know a path out of poverty is possible. Growing up, I had a strict but loving upbringing. Even though we were poor, my mother taught us to be neat and work hard. I’m so proud of her, raising us singlehandedly and working long hours as a seamstress to put us through school. She was always busy making wedding dresses and, in her spare time, doilies for us to sell at school. She was also very involved with the community, giving legal advice to the farm workers. It was through her association with Lawyers for Human Rights that I was introduced to the world of law. After school I obtained an LLB through Unisa and I’ll be completing my masters in tax law in 2017, focusing on how it affects non-profit organisations in South Africa. I hope to use this extra knowledge to assist Goedgedacht and the broader community of civil society with legal matters around tax and labour in particular.

Many of the POP children have faced domestic and alcohol-related violence since they first opened their eyes and lack concentration due to foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. I started teaching judo to a group of 35 farm-worker children who were impossible for teachers to handle in a local school due to this  and they have since calmed down enormously. They seem to love it so much that even when I am driving past them on the dirt road they bow to greet me as their ‘sensei’! I’ve been a national judo champion four times but they’re very talented themselves: we’ve produced 16 provincial players and one was selected to compete with me in Team South Africa in the Commonwealth Games in 2016. We both won medals!

A national judo champion, Ingrid has discovered that judo significantly calms children on the farm who struggle with attention deficit issues  |  Photo: Tonya Hester

Lunch is something light, usually a sandwich I make for myself in my flat. In the afternoon I go for a walk for an hour every day, even when it rains. We’ve expanded our POP programme into more rural communities and now have 3,000 children and youth participating in 95 different activities from daily after-school support, weekly life and leadership skills training to sport. Over 6,000 children and youth take part in our school holiday programmes and we are planning to grow further. Our plan, like they say in Star Trek, is ‘to go where no man or women ever wants to go!’ The POP programme has even managed to touch the lives of people as far away as the UK – a 33-year-old who spent six months volunteering in our programme decided to start studying social work in Wales!

acts of random kindness

We’re designing an Act of Random Kindness Fun Fest Play Park, enabling young people to learn difficult subjects such as maths, biology and history via play. To enter, every child, parent or staff member will have to go and do an act of random kindness, which means doing something for someone else without expecting anything back from them, being asked by them to do it or being paid to do it. We can all learn to be a lot kinder, right?

After a day of fundraising, writing reports and thinking how to address issues creatively, a quick game on my Wii, reading a book or watching a little TV pretty much takes up the rest of my day.

Supper, for someone whose cooking skills are questionable at the best of times, is often a repetition of lunch! I admitted defeat on the cooking front a while back. My weekends are taken up by writing my dissertation and running youth and women’s groups, as well as catching up with my precious family. When I do get time I’m a sucker for a romantic tearjerker. My favourite is Notting Hill… and Hugh Grant!’

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