Sunday, 19 September 2021

Women’s African help project finally bears fruit

A WOMAN who helped start a project to help people in rural South Africa to grow their own

A WOMAN who helped start a project to help people in rural South Africa to grow their own food has seen it completed after seven years.

Pauline Verbe and the late Dorothy Ackerman, both from Watlington, started the project in 2008 to help the people of Logaganeng, a village on the edge of the Kalahari desert.

Following her friend’s death in 2014 at the age of 88, Mrs Verbe made a final trip in February last year to commission the installation of a “growhouse”.

When she came home again, she researched exactly what was needed and then raised the £1,500 to deliver it. The growhouse was installed in September.

Mrs Verbe, of Sycamore Close, said: “It’s wonderful to see that the villagers have got their dignity and pride back and that they can start making a living for themselves. It was the first time I’d been there since Dot had died so it was a difficult thing to do. She would have been so delighted. I couldn’t have done it without her.”

The pair had visited Africa many times to do charity work. They helped transform the lives of people in Mothibistad, a South African township, by establishing allotments and an irrigation system with a team from a charity called Valley of Hope.

The charity closed in November with many of the volunteers, as well as the president, reaching retirement age and no one to take their places. The garden project in Logaganeng, which has a population of 1,700, was the women’s own initiative. They began by buying trees to start an orchard.

Mrs Verbe said: “We eventually approached Kumba Iron Ore Mine and they said ‘yes’, providing a windmill in 2012. When Dot became ill in 2014 we had to put on hold our final step — that of installing a growhouse — before handing over the ownership of the project to the villagers who were slowly beginning to make a living out of selling the produce they were growing.

“Last year, with the help of an unexpected donation from the Cumber Family Charitable Trust, an Oxfordshire family farming charity, I was able to commission the installation of the growhouse and finally finish the project Dot and I had  started.

“We are indebted to everyone who helped us get the project going. I know that Dot would also want me to thank all her many, many friends and, in particular, those at Swyncombe church who supported her every step of the way.”

Mrs Ackerman was a popular figure in Nettlebed, helping to found the village branch of the Women’s Institute of which she became secretary and then president.

Following the death of her husband Cyril, she retained her capacity for hard work and wrote her autobiography, entitled The Cowman’s Daughter, which was published months before her death.

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