Marlene Jooste received the 2009 Inyathelo Award for Women in Philanthropy. Marlene, from Bloemfontein in the Free State was honoured for her role in establishing and maintaining the I’m a Star project and for other medical and health awareness projects she has initiated.
The I’m a Star project enhances the lives of terminally ill children by making their dreams realities. In its 12th year, the project has granted the wishes of 450 children with terminal illnesses. “These children endure many long hours of treatment, sometimes from a very young age” says Marlene. “I ask them what their dreams are and together with sponsors, try to make them come true. We want to be their ‘fairy godmother’, to make them happy!”
Asked to list three dreams that they would like fulfilled, the children with life-threatening illnesses give the list to Jooste who then tries to fulfil them by approaching a potential sponsor. She says that it never fails to amaze her how simple some of the wishes are, nor how accommodating the sponsors.
“Children have many ‘heroes’, especially those in sport and those they see on TV, like actors and singers,” Marlene says. “I’m pleased that the majority of our celebrities are happy to get involved in a project such as ours. They include singers Steve Hofmeyer and Rina Hugo, rugby players James Small and Os du Randt, cricketer Boeta Dippenaar and Granite from The Gladiators.”
A Non-Profit Organisation (NPO), I’m a Star depends greatly on the goodwill of others. Says Marlene, “There are so many children whose dreams still need to be fulfilled. Without sponsors we won’t be able to do that. Everyone can make a difference by becoming one or supporting one of our initiatives.”
Dreams that have come true this year include:
- A colouring-in competition for children with life-threatening diseases. The completed pictures were bound into a calendar and then sold. The project was sponsored by MTN, Absa and Pharmacare.
- At the 2009 Bloemfontein Bridal Show, children who have already had some of their dreams fulfilled were again given a special treat: dresses and suits designed especially for them. They then modelled these creations at the show.
Marlene’s selfless dedication and devotion to this project and the many other community projects to which she is committed, together with the immense financial contribution she has personally made, prompted Inyathelo-The South African Institute for Advancement to award her the 2009 Woman in Philanthropy Award.
Philanthropists are nominated by their peers and members of the communities in which they work and by the NPOs they support. Nominations are made for a particular category such as Women in Philanthropy, Youth in Philanthropy and Philanthropy in Health. The awardees are chosen according to specific criteria.
A trained HIV/Aids counsellor, Jooste often goes to schools and churches to promote awareness of the pandemic. She also initiated an annual Christmas-in-June ball. Guests are encouraged to bring Christmas gifts to the function which are subsequently distributed at an end of the year Christmas party to children who have HIV/AIDS. Last year 400 children benefitted from this project.
She is also an advocate for blood donation, involving herself in awareness-raising for the SA National Blood Transfusion’s annual blood donation marathons. Described by her husband, Kenny, as a fundraiser of note, Jooste fundraises for numerous other community projects including
- SA Guide Dogs Association;
- Barthimea School for the Deaf and Blind;
- Lebone House, a holistic care centre for children affected by HIV/Aids; and
- Sunflower House, a place of safety and care for children suffering from life-threatening and life-limiting conditions like HIV/Aids, cancer and disability.
Marlene’s love for her community extends to the furry, four-legged variety too. She donates her time to the Bloemfontein Zoo, encourages others to get involved and assists in the de-worming and feeding of dogs in rural areas.