LOVING HER WORK: Cherry Armstrong runs Celebrate Life in her spare time, but has always done community-based work.
LOVING HER WORK: Cherry Armstrong runs Celebrate Life in her spare time, but has always done community-based work.
KAYAKING FOR COMMUNITIES: Lake Malawi practice run. Cheryl and eight girls are planning to raise R50 000 each for the bread-making ovens project.
KAYAKING FOR COMMUNITIES: Lake Malawi practice run. Cheryl and eight girls are planning to raise R50 000 each for the bread-making ovens project.

The founder of Celebrate Life has climbed 2 mountains, run a marathon, and now she’s eyeing Lake Malawi, all for the sake of charity. Marchelle Abrahams chats to her.

Cherry Armstrong’s larger-than-life personality is immediately apparent as she answers the phone. She comes across as vivacious and passionate about what she does.

Dedicating her life to charity work, it’s clear why she’s chosen to start the organisation Celebrate Life.

“The name came to me while working in palliative care with Hospice. Because I worked with cancer patients, I saw lots of people dying. I just think you should celebrate life every day when you wake up,” she says.

The seed was planted and Celebrate Life took flight.

Armstrong says the essence of Celebrate Life SA lies in respect for the land and its people. “A group of caring people, who have known each other and worked together for many years, became inspired to establish a project that not only made use of their talents, but also confronted some of the more serious issues facing our planet.”

The aim of their initial project in 2005 was to create awareness of Hospice and show it in a different light in contrast to what people perceive.

Armstrong and her business partner Lara Plumtree set the bar high, setting a target of R1million to raise for Hospice, Durban.

A year later and a mighty climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, they managed R764 000.

Now Armstrong has set her sights on crossing Lake Malawi with eight able-bodied girls.

“We climbed two mountains, Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru in Tanzania, and ran the Lewa marathon in Kenya, so it just seemed like a great women empowering challenge to do a paddle for a change!”

Planning to paddle 27km is no mean feat. The group has a five-day window to kayak from one side to the other.

They have to choose the right day with perfect conditions and minimal wind speeds.

“We will leave at 5am, as hippos are on land in the dark! We hope to be on the Mozambican side by 4pm,” laughs Armstrong, before adding that they do have a backup boat following them, should they run into trouble.

Behind the scenes, Celebrate Life has spent the last three years working on placing micro bakeries in rural communities across South Africa. To date, they have placed ovens in nine communities throughout KZN.

Armstrong has her work cut out by not only crossing Lake Malawi, but raising funds for the Celebrate Life Oven Project. Each of the eight girls has to raise R50 000, with a grand total of R400 000 as their end goal.

The aim of the project is to create sustainable jobs in these communities, where bakers will sell their products to spaza shops and schools.

Hence, the need for the ovens. But the ovens don’t come cheap. With each costing R25 000, it’s an uphill battle for her to connect with donors.

But she seems unperturbed, saying that their various fundraising initiatives play a huge role in transforming their plans to reality.

Once the groundwork is set, they can make an income of R4500 to R6 000 per month.

Armstrong also stresses the importance of being involved from the start, adding: “When we install the ovens, we spend three days training them on making bread, pizzas, muffins and snowballs until they have perfected the art. Then we follow up weekly, to check on them.”

The training doesn’t end there - each baker is also trained in small business management, so they understand their profit, costs, etc.

“We have been teaching these ladies that we choose to mentor for over three years now. They are so willing and proud, and take their new bakery very seriously.”

She’s a strong believer in conservation, stating that it always goes back to humanity.

For this reason, she has chosen to support causes that are not only dear to her heart, but that celebrate the will to succeed. And succeed it will

Herein lies her ethos for continuing to strive for helping those who cannot help themselves.

The spirit of Ubuntu burns strong in her soul. “I’m extremely positive, love life, just love giving to people in all walks of life, and I’m passionate about Africa.”

* Visit www.celebratelifesa.org to find out how you can contribute.