Even in lockdown there’s a light shining out of Goedgedacht Farm, thanks to individuals such as Deon Snyman (left) and Goedgedacht’s health and safety officer Sergio La Meyer
How is Goedgedacht, an olive-farm-cum-conference centre dedicated to uplifting the local community, responding to the challenges of Lockdown 2020? NANINE STEENKAMP discovered inspirational wells of compassion and energy in DEON SNYMAN and his colleagues in a wheat and wine valley at the foot of the Kasteelberg mountains
Political scientist and theologian Deon (54) is the managing director of Goedgedacht Trust and is married to Sarah Crawford-Browne, a social worker and lecturer
‘WHEN THE PANDEMIC ARRIVED in South Africa, it presented us at Goedgedacht with a lot of difficult challenges in a very short space of time!
We run a number of programmes, supporting local people in challenged socio-economic circumstances that we fund with business ventures. However, our conference centre, international student exchange programme and second-hand shops all had to close down. Eighty percent of our projected income dried up and we had to retrench 55 staff members.
But we decided, well, we must still respond to Covid. We launched an emergency feeding scheme and have been providing daily meals to approximately 1 000 vulnerable local families since April, paying for most of it from the reserves in our trust.
When lockdown destroyed the community’s ability to feed itself, Goedgedacht launched an emergency feeding scheme, providing around 1 000 families with daily meals
We felt, however, a greater responsibility than this to bring hope to communities already suffering hardship that were now in despair as Covid swallowed up their jobs. Most people in our surrounding communities don’t have the space to self-isolate when they’re diagnosed with coronavirus, so it made no sense for them not to use our facilities. This would also relieve pressure on the local hospital, which does not have quarantine or recovery facilities.
We had to do a lot of thinking in a short space of time! We had a historic barn with space for 24 people, and our leadership academy building had space for 16. We refurbished these, bought new beds, set up indoor and outdoor leisure spaces, DSTV and so on. It was very important to us that our guests enjoy their time with us and feel dignified. Since interaction is often the most important aspect of care, we also set up Wi-Fi so our guests could connect with their loved ones and social service support systems.
‘We had to do a lot of thinking in a short space of time,’ says Deon. Under his guidance, Goedgedacht converted its 18th century barn into a coronavirus recovery and isolation unit to prevent the local hospital being overwhelmed
The new living quarters at the recovery and quarantine centre. ‘I hope the gentleness of the recovery centre is a sign to the people here that somebody cares,’ says Deon. ‘One of the first patients to recover said she felt she was on holiday here. That gave us a lot of pleasure.’
The accommodation is basic but pleasant, and we have fireplaces and heaters to make sure nobody’s cold. The guests keep busy with activities such as laundry: it’s the first time some men have used a washing machine! We felt it crucial for the food to be good. Our chef, Joslyn van Rooyen, has made a huge effort and keeps sending us pictures of the food, delicious things such as avo in pita bread and home-made croissants.
Finally, we arranged contactless meal delivery and laundry services, a resident doctor and nurses from the hospital to monitor our guests, and set up six isolation units for healthcare workers and our own staff.
Food for patients in quarantine and recovery: ‘We wanted the food to be good,’ says Deon, ‘it was very important to us that our guests enjoy their time with us’
Our guests started arriving at the end of May. The first was a man who came in an ambulance. He was shy and tried to walk as far away from us as possible, hiding his face in his hands. That was very, very sad for me because it took me back to the time when HIV/AIDS was also stigmatised.
I said, ‘Please take your hands away, so we can look into each other’s eyes. You are welcome here; I hope this is going to be a good experience for you. Your health and safety are important to us and we’re hoping you can go back to family as soon as possible.’ He was overwhelmed, as if he didn’t expect people to welcome him in a lovely place like this. This touched me deeply.
We’ve had some administrative hiccups
To date, we’ve had 40 guests: 25 have recovered and been discharged, and 15 are still with us. One of the first patients to recover said: ‘It’s so nice here – like a holiday. I don’t want to go home.’ That gave us a lot of pleasure.
The Swartland Municipality provided two security guards to keep everyone safe and separate: many staff members live at Goedgedacht and we don’t want to put their health at risk. The guards are brilliant people and it’s great to see them interacting with the guests and our staff members. The atmosphere is really nice. In the evening the guests play music and it’s very festive!
We’ve had some administrative hiccups, such as the ambulance arriving with a patient we haven’t been notified about: this causes a little bit of stress! But we’re learning as we go, and things are becoming smoother.
Coronavirus forced the closure of businesses such as these second-hand Help the Rural Child-shops that fund Goedgedacht’s upliftment programmes, cutting its income streams by 80%
The Recovery Centre cost us about R200 000. We were very fortunate to have received linen donations from Cape Town hotels, such as The Vineyard Hotel, Cape Grace and the Mowbray Protea Hotel. The Nisbaum Foundation sponsored us with R120 000 for new beds and we received a number of smaller donations from people who are friendly towards Goedgedacht. And the Department of Health has also come to the party and assisted us with a donation of R250 per guest.
Funding is just one of a number of challenges, but I feel very privileged to be here. What particularly keeps me going is the dedication of people working daily to serve food to people in need. Whether they’re staff or volunteers, many do it with such conviction because they want to help their community. They make themselves vulnerable by having contact with large numbers of people but they’re not worrying that much about their own safety, their first priority is to care for people in need. This fills me with hope.
I welcome the fact that we have become stronger, developing new skills we didn’t have before. Despite all the challenges and hardships, this has been an opportunity for growth.
I think if there’s one thing that coronavirus told people all over the world, it’s that we could value life a lot more. I think it’s also time for us to reflect on what’s really important. Are we caring enough for each other, or are we busy building our own empires and getting more stuff? Can the ‘haves’ of South Africa identify vulnerabilities in our country that still haven’t been addressed 25 years into democracy? Is it time to think how you can contribute to peace by sharing what you have more freely?
I hope the gentleness of the Recovery Centre is a sign to the people here that somebody cares
I honestly believe this is what Jesus would have done, showing kindness, love and respect to people who, in some way, are ostracised because everybody’s afraid of touch at the moment.
Although I come from a specific Christian tradition, taking my hope and strength from God, it’s very important to me to respect every individual’s journey and the fact that people come from other traditions.
I believe we must make the most of every day, and the more we positively impact the lives of others, the more meaningful the day we’re living really is. I believe in life before death! For me, that’s the most important message: grab the opportunity of each day and make the best of it. None of us know how many days we have left; let’s focus more on making them meaningful for others.’
Freer times: Deon and wife Sarah celebrate Valentine’s Day earlier this year at Goedgedacht’s Garden Restaurant. ‘Make the most of every day,’ he says
HOW YOU CAN JOIN IN ON GOEDGEDACHT’S ENERGY 🙂
Goedgedacht was bought in 1993 by a group of social workers as a haven for burnt-out social workers to recharge. Over the years, their healing vision snowballed and they started running numerous programmes to help the local community, which have now been formalised into an NPO, the Goedgedacht Trust. There are numerous ways to support these programmes 🙂
FOLLOW the farm’s updates on Facebook or Instagram, DONATE food, clothing, bedding, vitamin sachets or furniture (a large table is currently needed at the recovery centre for staff meetings). Contact Deon at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info
BUY FARM PRODUCTS (look out for Goedgedacht’s cordials in Woolworths, olive oil and olives in Pick n Pay or start shopping in its online store in August 2020.) VOLUNTEER via numerous opportunities, including an exchange programme for international students. Contact Peter Templeton at email@example.com or Deon at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info
SLEEP OVER Experience fabulous Kasteelberg scenery, rustic accommodation and mountain biking trails by staying at Goedgedacht. BOOK YOUR 2021 CONFERENCE OR WEDDING at Goedgedacht. Contact Jacques Williams on 022 482 4369/1291/4466 or email email@example.com
GIVE INTO SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS Goedgedacht’s Care for the Planet project (see photos below), enabling members of the community to take responsibility for their own food security and support their neighbours with fresh produce. Currently, the team is seeking funders to help them re-employ talented staff members they were forced to retrench during lockdown. This is a crucial initiative as in the long run, as an emergency feeding scheme alone is not sustainable in the long run (see donation details below)
Contact Loretta Williams on 074 267 2469 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. A Section 18a tax certificate will be joyfully supplied to anyone offering financial support
More photos of Goedgedacht for you to enjoy 🙂