Being “God’s hands and feet” within the community was the first thing Mariana Esterhuizen aspired towards when she retired from teaching a decade ago.
Esterhuizen, 53, took early retirement from Grens Preparatory in 2006 to support her husband’s construction company start-up.
The couple have been working from home ever since.
The mother of two has since rehabilitated four informal schools – one each in Orange Grove, Nompumelelo, Fynbos and Newlands, refurbishing the infrastructure and supplying furniture and educational material to boost the establishments.
She has also adopted three women in prison whom she visits regularly, supporting them with toiletries, as well as three elderly women whom she takes out for coffee and cake every Wednesday.
On Thursdays she is at Frere Hospital, visiting patients who have come from afar and have no family close by to visit them.
“I engage with them, comforting them during visiting hours throughout their hospitalisation so they don’t feel isolated, and I want to encourage others to do the same.
“I distribute small bibles and spread the word of God and sometimes I give each one a piece of fruit,” she said.
Yesterday the Daily Dispatch caught up with Esterhuizen and friends Sylvia Du Preez, 85, Joey Coetzee, 65, and Marie van Rooyen, 83, at their weekly hangout at Cafe du Jardin at Floradale.
The three pensioners from Manor House, where senior citizens live independently, praised Esterhuizen for being their support system and adding colour to their week.
“Every week we look forward to Wednesdays because it’s a chance for us to dress up and go out, which is something we don’t do very often,” said Van Rooyen.
Du Preez said Esterhuizen always surprised them with adventurous activities that added purpose to their lives.
“She took us to Breath of Life one time to spend time with little children who had been abandoned, and ever since then we have crocheted clothes and blankets for those beautiful babies with wool she has bought.
“It helps to keep us busy and is our way of giving back for all that she does for us.”
Van Rooyen said although she had a car of her own, Esterhuizen drove them around and bought groceries and toiletries for them.
The women met through a mutual friend at Manor House, but Esterhuizen continued her visits after the friend died.
In Orange Grove, Xoliswa Mayeza, 57, from Khanyisa Educare Centre, said Esterhuizen noticed the creche while driving past, stopped and explored.
“She asked to see inside and how we were operating and asked what we needed.
“It wasn’t long before she was back bearing gifts of fencing, tables, chairs and food, among other items.
“Soon she had bought zinc to rehabilitate and expand our centre and revived it.
“She also helped us build relations with other people, who also visit us with gifts from time to time.”