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Giving a lifeline

490. Judy Westwater

An Inverness author set up 16 community projects in South Africa which have helped over 4,000 children living on the streets.

As the world marked International Women’s Day on 8 March, this week we will be recognising the achievements of five women who are making a difference around the world.

Following the death of her husband and watching an emotional news programme about children living in troubled towns in South Africa, Judy travelled to Johannesburg with her youngest child to set up 16 community projects in Soweto, Alexandra and Sebokeng, as part of The Pegasus Children’s Trust. The projects help improve the health and welfare of street children through providing education, food, clothing and healthcare.

Judy herself experienced a traumatic childhood when was kidnapped at the age of two from her mother by her father. When she was 11 years old, Judy was smuggled to South Africa where she was eventually abandoned by her father, leaving her alone, penniless and sleeping rough. Her experiences inspired her to help other abandoned children get a better quality of life, pledging as a child to help as many vulnerable children in the world as possible.

A number of projects were established under the Pegasus Trust, including ‘A Second Chance’, which gives youth and risk and street children the chance to get involved in performing arts and circus skills to build trust, confidence, discipline and teamwork in a fun way. The Trust also works to build improvements the Ilitha crèche for 65 children in the Monwabisi Park Khayelitsha township – a poverty stricken area of Cape Town. This project gives parents the freedom to earn a living knowing that their children are in a safe place and provides early learning education to prepare children for more learning in later years. It also reinforces early learning needs of children and better prepares them for formal education.

The projects in South Africa are now officially run by Rotary International, with Judy still overseeing all the projects. She also visits South Africa three times a year, facing dangerous circumstances to help support street children who face greater hazards than even she experienced, with endemic violence, drugs and Aids. In 2004 Judy was presented with an Unsung Heroes Award and her success in South Africa.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“Judy has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of children living on the streets of South Africa. With the many projects she has set up, she has helped over 4,000 children to access education, food and healthcare. To those children, Judy is truly a Point of Light and I am delighted to be able to recognise her service in this week where we mark International Women’s Day and celebrate inspirational women around the world.”

Judy said:

“Words cannot express the warmth I feel by being nominated and receiving this award. I can only think of one. WOW! It has been an amazing journey over the past 25 years. I remember clearly the day that at the age of 12 I made the pledge that I would help street kids like me worldwide. I lay on the floor and printed with my finger on the dusty road of Johannesburg, ‘One day I will come back here and change things’. The time came when this pledge could be laid. “During these years there are so many people whom I thank most sincerely for helping me to plough the fields and to help lay the seeds. Those seeds have now blossomed bringing great colour to so many vulnerable kids. Such appreciation and huge thanks go to all the team leaders of the projects.”

Scotland Office Minister Andrew Dunlop said:

“In a week where we recognise the contribution made by women, Judy is an example of the kind of inspirational work being done by Scottish women in every part of the world. Her focus on education, food and healthcare will help the next generation of young South Africans fulfil their potential and in turn, play their part in the development of their country. “To be able to help thousands of children in one of the most deprived parts of the world is an outstanding achievement and one worthy of this Points of Light Award.”

The daily Points of Light award recognises outstanding individual volunteers - people who are making a change in their community.

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