Lizelle Coombs is on a mission. Growing up in Wellington, with both her mother and sister as social workers, Lizelle is no stranger to witnessing hardship.
She has heard stories that would peel your skin off. And so, with the desire to help, but not all that convinced she had the emotional constitution of a social worker, she chose a different way.
Today, Lizelle is CEO of Angels Resource Centre. This is a rural development and training organisation with numerous prongs to keep it self-sustainable.
Lizelle says poverty is at the root of many of the ills rural people face, so a steady income is key to changing lives.
She tells the story of one of her entrepreneurs in the Northern Cape who started off growing some vegetables on a farmer’s land.
Lizelle and team helped negotiate a piece of land for him, and he is making a roaring trade selling vegetables.
“But it’s more than that,” adds Lizelle. “He had a friend helping him, and this man used to drink all the time. Now, seeing his success, this friend has decided to get clean. He stopped drinking, started working.
He gives what he earns to his wife, and they have opened a bank account. It’s this, the ripple effect, the way one person’s growth inspires their community, that makes it all worthwhile.”
Her phone is full of messages from entrepreneurs from all over the Northern and Western Cape, who are updating her, asking advice, and showing her their new produce.
One message shows a woman getting a donation of bicycles, and her message to Lizelle says: “This is all because of you.”
She has been an entrepreneur with Angels Rescource Centre since 2015, and has been resolute in growing her small business.
Lizelle says the entrepreneurs, all rural people who have had ideas but no capital to realise them, are the heroes of this story.
The deprivation of rural communities, she says, is something that beggars belief.
“Very much of what is wrong in our world today is that people value in other people only in what they earn or can contribute financially. Money is a tool, we need it, but if I can use it to make people start thinking, encourage them to start questioning their lives and the frame of reference they grew up with, then we see the biggest changes, and most enduring ones,” Lizelle says.
Angels Resource Centre has branches in Main Road, Fish Hoek, Sunny Acres and De Aar.
The Fish Hoek branch has a florist, coffee shop and IT specialist in store. It helps to run markets that stock the products of local people whose dream it is to make a living for themselves.
“We’ve got to help our kids not to do what we did,” says Lizelle.
“Most people simply have no idea how privileged they are. And its not for them to feel guilty about, but we can each lend a hand in righting the balance, in maybe being that glimmer of hope for another person.”
For more information on what the Angels teams do, click here.