“I was hooked,” says top US life coach Martha Beck of her South African journey of the soul. “There is something bigger and deeper and incredibly beautiful about this place, and it just brings me back and I keep bringing other people back.”
Dr Martha Beck is a best-selling American author, life coach and speaker who Oprah Winfrey rates as “one of the smartest women I know”. She also makes a point of coming to South Africa every year to host personal development retreats that raise funds for rural education, having fallen completely in love with the country and its people.
“In Africa, I feel safe in my soul,” says Martha, who is one of the best-known life coaches in the United States and whose latest book, The Way of Integrity: Finding a Path to Your True Self, was an instant New York Times best-seller.
Not only does her annual safari retreat help people find meaning in their lives, it’s also become part of this life coach’s own journey towards finding purpose and fulfilment.
It’s easy to see why Martha is such a successful speaker – she radiates warmth, authenticity and positivity and is receptive to forging deep-seated, spiritual connections with the people and places she encounters.
One of these abiding friendships is with the non-profit Good Work Foundation, as an avid supporter of the vital work it does to enrich rural communities in Mpumalanga and the Free State. This season of giving, she has been rallying her followers to donate to this inspiring organisation that has been delivering wonder-filled learning for more than a decade.
‘Madiba magic is in everyone’
Her long love affair with South Africa started in the 1990s, when she visited to bask in the Madiba magic that was enveloping the country – and the world – at the time. However, every time she returned, she observed mounting concern over who would be the “next Nelson Mandela”.
“I got on the plane to leave and looked down at Joburg, and the thought hit me like an explosion: all South Africans are the next Mandela. I got the chills. I know you have your problems, but there is also something bigger and deeper and incredibly beautiful about this place, and it just brings me back and I keep bringing other people back.”
Years later, while visiting the Londolozi Private Game Reserve, she was struck by the excellent work being done to bring digital learning to the villagers. That’s where she encountered the first stirrings of what would become Good Work Foundation (GWF) and its plans to revolutionise rural education by providing access to smart technology.
“I was just so entranced by the whole experience,” she says, beaming at the memory.
“I was jet-lagged but found it all so fascinating, listening to the big plans they had. For one thing, it felt so ancient to be sitting under a tree in Southern Africa where we all evolved, and in another way it was very cutting edge, talking about ideas that were so exciting.
“I went to a local primary school and could see it was so overcrowded – the teachers were underfunded with no materials, and three kids to a desk. But the vision the GWF was putting together was so full of life and energy – and the joy of learning – that I was hooked.”
She met GWF founder Kate Groch – “one of the all-round most fabulous humans on the face of the Earth” – and her daughter Maya, who was a toddler at the time. “Maya said, ‘I don’t want you to go, Martha,’ and Kate said, ‘No, Martha is going back to her country and she’s going to bring a lot more friends here to play with you and Good Work Foundation.’ And Maya, wearing only a diaper, said, ‘That’s just fantastic!’”
Tracking your life path in the bushveld
Martha kept that promise: along with Dave, Shan, Boyd and Bronwyn Varty at Londolozi, she dreamed up a way to start bringing others to South Africa to be inspired by this “enchanted, magical” place.
In 2008, she launched the African STAR (Self-Transformation Adventure Retreat) at Londolozi, an annual foray into the bush during which 12 people at a time are guided in how to “track” their purpose.
Martha and her team draw on the healing and transformative power of nature to guide participants towards their true path in life. Importantly, the proceeds earned from the (mainly international) delegates who sign up for these bush seminars go towards supporting the work done by Good Work Foundation.
“Going into the bush is such a dramatic thing if you’ve never done it before. We would also take people to the Good Work Foundation to see what they’re doing, and the joy and excitement were so contagious that a lot of these wonderful clients would donate additional money.”
Martha marvels at “how much the Good Work Foundation does with every dollar, every rand [raised] … they make every rand go so far. There is such beauty and joy and integrity around them that set them apart from other NGOs.”
Coming ‘home’ to feed the soul
Years after that “aha” moment, she visited GWF’s Hazyview Digital Learning Centre that opened its doors in 2012, giving life to the vision of bringing digital learning to rural Mpumalanga.
She describes watching the children being bussed in for after-school classes: “As the doors of the bus open, the kids come out like they’ve been shot from cannons – they’re so excited to be in that environment to learn and explore. It’s the most incredible thing. You will not have a better experience in this world!”
She gets animated when talking about this country, clearly feeling a deep connection to the “cradle of humanity”.
“There is something so magical and heart-filling about South Africa. On my first trip, I expected to feel like this was the most exotic place I’d ever been, but it felt like the most ‘home’ I’ve ever been,” Martha relates.
“The landscape and the people and the principle of ubuntu … we hear a lot about the bad things in Africa, but we don’t see on the news the incredible kindness and sweetness that’s knitted into the souls of South Africans. There’s a spiritual essence in the country and its people that’s so powerful and magical, and it matches what I feel in my heart as the way humanity should be living. It’s so good for the heart and it’s so good for the soul.”
Join Martha in supporting Good Work Foundation’s work to foster digital literacy among South Africa’s rural youth.