Janet Pelling
Inspiration: Janet Pelling jacked it all in at the age of 61 and started all over again

Over the last week or so, I have come across a number of people who are doing what can only be described as inspiring things with their lives - albeit in a number of different ways.

So I don't know whether there's something in the air. But if there is and I were to try to distill it down in any kind of coherent fashion, I'd say that it's about seizing opportunities, taking risks and effecting change when life is no longer working for you. It's that kind of thing.

So first on my list of inspirational souls is Stephanie, a French woman who manages the Kraal Gallery in Stellenbosch. She came to South Africa about 20 years ago for a three-month holiday, met her future husband and ended up staying here.

Although Stephanie had followed a fairly traditional employment route working for the usual large corporations, last year she decided that, despite the financial benefits, it was no longer the life for her and she gave it all up.

After a couple of months of unemployment, she started working at weekends for the Firlands Farm Stall near Somerset West, a town about 20km from Stellenbosch, my new home town, which sold the Kraal Gallery's hand-woven goods. She has taken over management of its shop, relocated with her dog and transformed her life.

Because the Kraal Gallery (www.thekraalgallery.com) isn't just any old gallery. It's an innovative social development programme that was set up and is sponsored by a local businessman (and individual donations) to train historically disadvantaged women in how to become master weavers, or "weaverbirds".

Unique, handwoven goods

On completion of training, the women are employed by the gallery to create unique handwoven rugs, wall hangings, bags and the like.

A key selling point of these bright and beautiful goods is that no two pieces are alike - although, given the supermarket chains' penchant for uniformity, such a philosophy has made it difficult to get them interested.

An important plus of this scheme is that it offers workers a daily wage rather than simply paying them on the sale of items that they've made - an approach that ultimately has to be much more sustainable for women coming from deprived communities who live hand-to-mouth as it is.

Although the most experienced weavers operate out of the gallery's shop in Stellenbosch to showcase their techniques, a workshop also opened up in the rural community of Genadendal about four years ago.

Genadendal is a settlement of 4,500 people, mostly households where single mothers with between three and four children are the key breadwinners and who have to rely on mainly seasonal agricultural work to survive. Which means that initiatives such as the Kraal Gallery's act as a true lifeline.

And working for such an organisation has made a real difference to Stephanie's outlook on life too. She may have less money in her pocket but she sure as hell looks forward to getting up in the morning, seeing what new people and opportunities the day will bring and, ultimately, feeling like she's doing something worthwhile.

Next on my list of motivating life stories is an English woman called Janet, whom I met at my B&B.

102 Faces

A former art teacher, Janet Pelling decided to pack it all in at the age of 61 and go travelling by herself after a lightbulb came on in her head and she decided it was time to start pursuing her dreams. Her aim was to learn new art techniques from various artists around the world.

The problem with the UK's art scene apparently is that it is now so stuck in its consistently modernist ways that students barely learn how to draw in the classical sense, let alone innovate beyond their narrow establishment confines.

But after raising three kids and going through a divorce, Janet was keen to broaden her horizons and do what she'd always wanted to do - paint.

So she set up a website called www.102faces.com and set off with the idea of finding interesting fizogs to photograph and later capture using techniques that she'd learned from the artists she'd worked and studied with.

Each completed painting will appear in her 102 faces online gallery and will be auctioned off to raise funds for multiple sclerosis, a cause dear to Janet's heart. She was diagnosed with it at 15, with her parents informed that she'd be lucky to make it past 19.

Nonetheless, she survived and thrived, only to be told again at the age of 43 that she should prepare herself to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair - and soon.

Not long afterwards, however, it came to light that Janet had been misdiagnosed all along. At 15, she had suffered a brain virus that had caused a weakness in her left side and presented in a similar fashion to MS.

Perfect marriage venue

Janet isn't the only person in her family to have taken off into the wide blue yonder to experience the new. Her son, Alex, and his fiancée, Lisa, are also travelling the world and, indeed, were part of a mix of factors that inspired her to take action in the first place.

After a few bottles of wine over which they bemoaned the lack of unique wedding locations available, the couple decided not just to talk about it, but to actually embark on a three-year-long journey to find the perfect marriage venue.

Alex sold his car body repair shop along with their house and both worked all hours God sent to finance their plans, which included purchasing a 25-year-old camper van named 'Peggy' as their vehicle - and home - of choice.

After setting up www.2people1life.com to raise funds for Unicef and keep interested parties informed of progress, Alex and Lisa have so far been unofficially married in around 37 ceremonies around the world, where the focus has been on embracing local culture and traditions.

Weddings to date include a voodoo event in New Orleans, a First Nation celebration in Vancouver Island, Canada, and a Zulu ceremony in a township near Johannesburg. They've become a big hit in countries such as Brazil and the US where their activities are televised.

At the end of it all, they will select their favourite venue and make honest people of themselves there - accompanied by someone who has donated to the Unicef 'Zankyou Wedding Register' fund and has won an all-expenses paid trip to join them.

So there you go. "It's been an incredible journey", as they say (oh so cheesily) on the X-Factor - but it's been an inspirational one too.

Cath Everett is a resting journalist who has written about business, technology and HR issues for over 20 years. She recently moved from the UK to South Africa with her husband.


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