Cherry Armstrong is the director and founder of the NPC, ‘Celebrate Life SA’, where the key focus is on the empowerment of women in rural communities locally and nationally.
Cherry was born in Nairobi, Kenya and moved to South Africa at the age of three with her family.
Her passion for people led her into the field of nursing, where after matriculating from Pietermaritzburg Girls High School, she trained to become a professional nurse. For the past 18 – 20 years Cherry has worked in communities as a project manager in the field of clinical trials in oncology, neurology, rheumatology, TB, and HIV.
She said, “My nursing career took me into palliative care, which enabled me to care for many people dying from cancer and HIV, while working in the communities.”
In 1994, long before ‘beauty spas’ were established, she opened the first Anti Stress Clinic called Stresstique. Cherry then ran her own company – Global Clinical Research (Pty) Ltd, which she closed just before the Covid lockdown in March 2020.
In between managing her clinical research company, Cherry, together with a group of twelve adventurous and motivated ladies, decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro together to raise one million rand for Hospice. This adventure with a cause, led to the birth of the NPC called ‘Celebrate Life SA’ which she registered in 2005.
Since climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 2005, the group have taken on several challenging endeavours such as climbing Mount Kenya, running a marathon, paddling around Mauritius; all to raise funds for the rural community initiatives of ‘Celebrate Life’. Each fundraising initiative involves a different mix of women wanting to contribute to upliftment.
Celebrate Life SA continues to surge forward with its women empowerment and sustainability programmes in rural communities, both local and nationally.
In October this year, Cherry was one of three finalists in the “Santam Woman of the Future”. The three finalists were chosen out of more than 1000 entrants in their category. In 2018, Cherry was recognised by the SA Chamber of Commerce UK’s Annual Business and Community Awards for Serving Community in South Africa. In 2017, she received the Durban Solid Waste ‘Clean Communities’ Award for Empowering Women in Disadvantaged Communities.
Another successful achievement close to the heart of ‘Celebrate Life’ is that of their ‘Ubuntu Micro Bakery Project’. This is a national project that changes the lives of hundreds of women for the better, every year. The project consists of a wood fired oven with two drawers and a chimney that can be put into any rondavel or home in the middle of nowhere and includes training women to become entrepreneurial bakers. ‘Celebrate Life’ fundraises for the oven and baking utensils, down to a wooden spoon, and the training. The women are trained for a period of three days to a week, and then are mentored for a year. These little ovens produce an amazing eight loaves of bread per hour. The women also make muffins, pizzas, cinnamon buns and more and in so doing, build their own bakery businesses which are so beneficial to the communities where often there is not even a spaza shop. The income from the bakery is therefore, recirculated in and by the community.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
The main purpose of ‘Celebrate Life’ is to make a tangible difference in the lives of rural communities by empowering women who previously felt hopeless and helpless, feeding children who haven’t had a solid meal, and implementing projects that are sustainable and uplifting.
The benefits of the bakery empowerment initiative extend beyond merely earning an income. There has been a noted reduction of household gender violence in these areas where the women are earning an income. The children become involved in delivering items and learn new skills, and most importantly, these bakeries provide food for people, creches and feeding schemes.
Cherry says, “Africa is embedded in my soul. I am passionate about all that “Celebrate Life SA” achieves in the rural communities. After all, women are the backbone of a community and my inspiration.”
When asked who has inspired her on this journey, Cherry commented, “I think I probably inspired myself on my journey, as I’ve learnt so much along the way. There are so many inspiring people, one of which for me is Dr Thuli Madonsela, who is so humble. I am also inspired by the amazing women in the communities, who are so grateful for what we do with them and the difference these projects bring into their lives.”
EDUCATION IS INTEGRAL
The challenge most experienced in the communities, has been education, simply because our young people in general, have not been taught to be entrepreneurs. Cherry believes that this skill should be taught from a young age so that individuals can be self-sufficient, look after themselves, earn their own income and not rely on government or handouts. Education is therefore an integral part of this initiative.
Being a leader that surges forward with what she believes in, Cherry has not encountered too many personal challenges. The main challenge as with any NPO, is keeping it going with ongoing, consistent fundraising, applying for grants, and the admin that accompanies this.
PAVING THEIR OWN JOURNEY
Cherry advises young people to empower themselves by doing something they love and are passionate about. “They don’t necessarily need to study at university to achieve,” she says, “they can upskill themselves as entrepreneurs and pave their own journey forward.”
Looking to the future, Cherry’s goal is keeping the Ubuntu Micro Bakery Project going on for posterity because of its impact. She is also in the final stages of writing her book on cancer, called ‘Just Breathe’, which is filled with practical information for the patient, and will hopefully be published soon.
To relax and unwind, Cherry heads for the outdoors. She enjoys ocean paddling, running, hiking and water skiing.
In conclusion, Cherry says, “It would be wonderful if each one of us, no matter what our business is, were to teach others, by working together, to go forward and forge their own journey. We, in South Africa, can make it happen.”