Chattanooga, Tenn. – Maggie Leef has witnessed squalor, which puts golf in perspective.
After carding a 3-over 75 that will surely get her into Monday’s match play, the animated 51-year-old Brookfield, Wis., native explained how a ministry to South Africa opened her eyes to what’s important in life.
This past October, Leef embarked on 26 hours worth of plane rides to take part in the Living Hope ministry. The ministry evolved from the Low Country Community Church in Bluffton, S.C. It targeted Red Hill, an informal township near Cape Town. Red Hill is one of six communities supported by the ministry. Much of the camp existed because of apartheid. It was a squatters’ camp, more or less, said Leef.
According to the Living Hope Web site, Red Hill is located between Scarborough and Simon’s Town and houses an informal settlement of approximately 400 makeshift households. Originally started in the 1980s, Red Hill has retained a small population of around 1,000 people and consists of a black and mixed area of residents. The settlement is located on a large hill with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, with residents attracted by the solitude of living in what they call “the country.”
In stark contrast to the sweeping scenery, almost all residents live well below the poverty line; even though there has been slight and gradual improvement, it is still very much a community in need. Red Hill has only had running water since 2005 and electricity since 2007, and almost all the residents live in simple shacks. Leef said she saw a water spicket every 10 or so shacks, which was used to do laundry as the women sang together.
Unemployment is a major concern. It is estimated that roughly 80 percent of the population is unemployed.
In an area where 98 percent of the women make up the head of household due to cultural reasons, the ministry’s purpose was to curb the spread of the HIV/Aids virus. Leef was there for 12 days bringing smiles to children’s faces and doling out hugs to whoever needed one. The ministry provided free clinics that taught the dangers of spreading the disease.
“It was striking,” said Leef. “I still haven’t made sense of it all. But I never had pity on anyone even though I was surprised at their condition of living.”
Leef privately worried on the plane trip that she’d have nothing in common with anyone. As soon as she got off the plane, she saw a tomatillo plant – a cross between a green pepper and tomato - growing in the side of the mountain. Leef had tried growing tomatillos on her own with little luck. She asked one of the local women what the secret was to growing them. The woman told her lots and lots of water. That was it.
One of the goals of Living Hope was to provide crafts and supplies for the women. Living Hope contributed pillow cases that would be turned into dresses or small tops for girls.
Leef said it was noticeable that many of the children weren’t in school. There’s no government penalty for not sending a child to school, so the ministry would try to teach the kid, provide bible lessons and sing songs.
“You would feed them something as simple as peanut butter sandwiches and an apple, banana or cookie,” said Leef, “and you would get the biggest smiles. They were happy with their way of life.”
And that time, golf was the furthest thing from her mind.