Leon du Plessis grew up on a family farm near Ermelo in Mpumalanga. After he left school, he racked up an impressive list of qualifications in the fields of higher education, financial management, sales and project management as well as human rights, and established a successful career for himself in Johannesburg.
Though he had achieved what most people perceive as success, he struggled to fully enjoy it. When he returned to his family farm for visits, he was increasingly disturbed by the plight of the poor rural communities in the area. Over time his thinking shifted from worrying about his own comfort to being concerned about the well-being of the wider community. Out of a sense of desperation to help those less fortunate, he started a charity called Children at Play (or ‘C@P’) in 2009.
Investing in farm workers’ children
As the name implies, C@P was focused on the younger generation. By investing in the children of the workers on the farms, du Plessis hoped to give them a good foundation for life and break the cycle of poverty.
The charity initially began by trying to get the children involved in sport as a means of teaching discipline and life skills. As it grew, they realised that many of the families could not afford school supplies and this had become an obstacle to the kids’ efforts to get a good education, so they started supplying stationery to the children.
By 2012 du Plessis had given up on his corporate life altogether. He returned to Ermelo with his family and began a career in farming while continuing the work of the organisation. C@P continued to expand over the years and now covers a wide range of focus areas:
C@P Education now supplies thousands of children each year with their own stationery and sometimes laptops to enable their learning. The organisation motivates them to work harder by rewarding hard-working learners for the academic achievements they have gained despite the odds against them. They also provide bursaries wherever possible to better schools and tertiary institutions.
As proper nutrition is vital to the development of children, C@P Food provides nutritional food supplies to families in need as well as children’s homes and baby-care centres. In 2017 they donated a brand-new kitchen to the Umzimvelo Agricultural Secondary School. This branch of the charity also provides other basic necessities such as blankets, clothes, scarves, toiletries and water purifiers to those who need them.
C@P Sport continues to teach discipline and teamwork. It also promotes an active lifestyle and healthy living so kids can perform to the best of their abilities. Sport also keeps children off the streets and out of trouble. The opportunity to earn sports bursaries provides further incentive for kids to excel in this field. Equipment like soccer balls and netball balls are provided by the charity and coaching clinics are offered in remote areas.
C@P Health, together with the Cancer Association of South Africa, works to create awareness about cancer, aids cancer prevention and supports cancer survivors. This division also provides prosthetics to underprivileged children and mosquito nets to families in malaria-affected areas. They support HIV and AIDS prevention and awareness, while also educating people in cholera-affected areas to ensure that their drinking water is always purified.
C@P Ministries is a religious branch of the charity, while C@P International focuses on extending their efforts into other parts of Africa such as Swaziland, Namibia, Burundi and Botswana.
The charity has also developed the Sky-Pals project, an initiative that uses the internet to connect South African children with those in America. While many of the rural school kids have never even been to the closest town, they are now able to meet kids from the other side of the world. Not only are they able to connect over the things they have in common, such as school pressure and personal problems, but they are also able to broaden their perspectives and open their minds to opportunities that they may not otherwise consider. The kids are encouraged to motivate, inspire and support each other, and the project has created some otherwise unlikely friendships.
What makes this charity quite unique is that it is a 100% non-profit organisation. As all those involved have jobs, the organisation is supported by volunteers and claims no administration fees to sustain its work. Du Plessis’ former corporate career has not been wasted. He has partnered with many of the contacts he’s made in the past to realise a number of the charity’s projects and initiatives.
Du Plessis continues to take his role as a farmer as well as his responsibility to his community very seriously. He believes that everyone deserves a fair chance at reaching their goals and through C@P, even children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds can become responsible, productive, successful adults.