NEWSPAPER MAGAZINE - Game Changers by Glynis Horning in Edgars Club, April 2014

Edgars Club Magazine April 2014 edition - Glynis Horning writes about meeting Gaynor Schoeman

"I joined her with my notebook and camera" by Glynis Horning

Glynis Horning - Journalist

“As a journalist I’ve been privileged to interview some extraordinary women, from Tina Turner to Nobel prize-winner green warrior Wangari Maathai. But the one who most changed my take on life was a little-known South African called Gaynor Schoeman.

It was 1994, and Hutu and Tutsi neighbours had just turned on each other in Rwanda, leaving nearly a million dead and triggering the biggest migration in the shortest time in history as another million fled across the border into Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) over three devastating days. Gaynor was 28 years old and was working in her family’s yachting business in Durban.

Like most of us, she watched the TV footage each night, and was particularly horrified by those of the children, faces blank with terror and despair – some 10 000 under the age of seven had been orphaned or separated from their parents, left to fend for themselves in a world gone mad.

But unlike the rest of us, when Gaynor saw an image of a crying man lifting bodies onto a truck and begging for help, she said, ‘Hang on. I can do that’. And she did – catching a lift up on a relief flight from Joburg to work in the refugee camps.

When I heard she was going to Zaire, I joined her with my notebook and camera, hitching a ride on a Russian military plane piled with supplies. We landed on a ragged stretch of tar between jungle-clad mountains, cadged a jeep ride into Goma with Irish soldiers and camped in the yard of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Each day we’d rise in darkness lit by the surreal red glow of Mount Nyiragongo, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and catch rides on relief vehicles to the refugee camps – sprawling lava-strewn wastelands where thousands clung to life under donated plastic sheeting.

While most of us are content to wring our hands in the face of adversity, Gaynor quietly used hers in whatever practical way she could – to dig latrines, erect storage tents, lift the injured onto trucks, and hold and comfort the dying. She made an indelible difference to people’s lives, yet spoke only of the difference made to hers by their resilience, and small acts of selflessness and compassion.

The Zaire experience came together for me one crazy night when Gaynor and I joined Irish soldiers and climbed Nyiragongo. As we scrambled for the summit before dawn, we smelled sulphur and heard a thunderous roar but nothing prepared us for the sight before us. In a crater some two kilometres across and 180m deep, the earth spilled its fiery guts in great, slow geysers that crashed and crawled back in lazy waves. Behind us, directly in the lava path should the cone explode, thousands of refugees made a Milky Way of cooking fires on the plain below.

The magnificence of nature and the vulnerability of man was overwhelming and for the first time since arriving in this place of horror and hope, I cried.”

Game Changers, Page 35/6 of the Edgars Club Magazine April 2014 edition

This was the event 20 years previously Under the Volcano by Glynis Horning in Femina Magazine Summer issue 1994

 

 


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