Durban has become a second home to an Australian modern-day “fairy godmother”, now on her eighth extended visit to the area in as many years.
Libby Weir’s visits to the city come as a blessing to many poor people in Camperdown and parts of the Valley of 1 000 Hills, where she has worked tirelessly to improve their lives.
Weir raises the money she needs during the nine months of the year she spends at her home in Panbula Beach on the coast of New South Wales.
Then each year she takes extended unpaid leave – usually three months – from her teaching job in Australia and comes to Durban to help at least some of the needy causes she has identified.
She has over the years built a house for a family in need, bought educational equipment, books and school uniforms, paid children’s transport costs, bought sewing machines and financed dressmaking lessons. She has also helped establish vegetable gardens for people living in the Valley of 1 000 Hills.
Weir’s love affair with Kwazulu-Natal started in 2005 when she spent nine months as a temporary teacher at a small pre-school in the village of KwaXimba in the valley.
She got to know the children well and most of their families, and was shocked at the poverty in which many of the valley people lived.
In 2006 she returned to the valley for six months and during her stay decided she wanted to do something to help a family who was in desperate need. “There were 12 of them living in one room,” she said.
Weir went back to Australia and raised the R150 000 she needed to build a home for the family. She returned to Durban and the valley the next year.
“It took three months to build the house, using local labour. I would love to have built more. I have a huge amount of sympathy for the people of the valley.
“The women in particular are so resolute, so strong. I also love their willingness to share and take in each others’ children, even when they are suffering themselves. They smile and never complain.”
By 2008 Weir had spent a lot of time in the valley and was acutely aware of the lack of vegetable gardens, even though many people were going hungry.
She bought fencing and seed, and helped families to start growing vegetables.
“I also arranged lessons for some of the ladies to learn to sew and donated some sewing machines.”
Weir said the vegetable gardens played an important part in the health of the community. “Many of the women are HIV positive and the vegetables help improve their diet.”
She has expanded on the garden scheme each year when she returns.
“We now have 14 gardens – some far better than others, but they are all there.”
Weir said she was grateful to the Hillcrest Aids Centre and the Inchanga Rotary Club, who had now thrown in their lot to help expand and improve the gardening project.
When she returns to Australia she will once again embark on her fund-raising.
“I talk on radio and to newspapers, and visit schools and clubs.”
She said she would definitely be back in Durban next year. “I will keep coming back for as long as I can.”