A ‘glass half full’ kind of initiative

CARL COLLISON

The big optimist aboard the Little Optimist is hoping to raise R10 million for sick children.

Greg Bertish chose to paddle for 24 hours in the tiny children’s dingy, “The Little Optimist”, in a paddling pool at the V&A Waterfront, to raise funds for the Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trust.

“The Little Optimist is a little believer with a huge heart, who believes he will reach his goal and realise his dream. He is determined to prove to all that he can do whatever he believes he can,” says Mr Bertish.

This reasoning could then, just as easily, be used to describe the man himself, who, through his four-month fundraising venture, hopes to raise R10 million for the Trust.

Funds raised by Mr Bertish will contribute to the expansion and the upgrade of the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, saving the lives of thousands of critically ill or injured children.

The Hospital houses the largest PICU in Africa. Children in need of specialised and emergency critical care are referred from all over the continent, yet this vital unit only has 22 of approximately 35 ICU beds set aside for children in the Western Cape.

This PICU is in serious need of an upgrade and expansion to increase bed capacity, develop a high care unit for neonatal patients as well as establish isolation cubicles. The high care unit and the isolation cubicles will ensure optimal treatment through better infection control, which is critical in ICU.

As to why he chose this particular cause to raise funds for, Mr Bertish says: “I spent 200 days in hospital between 2000 and 2007, fighting an undiagnosable tropical bacteria that attacked my heart valves on three separate occasions. I had two open-heart surgeries and then spent another 60 days on intravenous drips in 2007. I had used positivity, optimism, visualisation and my passion for the ocean to overcome, survive that experience – and thrive. I went on to become a South African stand-up paddle board and lifesaving champion – as a heart operation survivor. I still ride big wave and was nominated as riding one of the biggest waves in Africa last year.”

His 24-hour paddling mission at the V&A Waterfront took place on Friday March 4 and Saturday March 5.

“It was amazing fun. There was lots of support and big smiles, he says, laughingly adding: “Some late night ‘street sharks’ were more intimidating than those I have encountered in the ocean.”

While the official media release puts the figure raised by Mr Bertish at just under R25 000, he says: “I have had some further pledges and am sitting at almost R50 000 now. It’s a great start to my little optimist project.”

This is only the start, I ask?

“Yes,” he says, “for the second leg of the project, the Little Optimist will sail 200km in the open ocean from Cape Hangklip, around Cape Point and all the way to Langebaan lagoon. That will be 200km for the 200 days I spent in hospital.

“And,” he says with certainty, “we will raise R200 000.”

The 200km voyage is set to take place in April.

Roxy Mitchell, head of communications for the Trust, says: “We are delighted with the Little Optimist’s resilience and achievement at the Waterfront this past weekend. These events assist the Trust in entrenching our brand in the public domain, which assists to keep us top of mind as a reputable charity worthy of support. In addition, it gives us an opportunity to engage with new donors and to expand our networks and reach.

“Greg, and others like him who take it upon themselves to champion causes, are truly selfless in their endeavours and add significant income to our overall fundraising targets. Being a charity, we have limited capacity to manage numerous fundraising events, so having third party champions run events on our behalf means we are able to extend our external capacity and ultimately raise more funds.”

How important, I ask Mr Bertish, are individual-led fundraising initiatives?

“It’s so important. It all adds up, no matter how small. It also inspires others to donate their time and money and also gives great exposure to that cause and hopefully convinces more people to donate,” he says.

As to why people should support him, he says: “Well, this is really about giving poor, sick and just average kids hope, belief and optimism. Like those kids facing poverty, illness and life-threatening operations, the Little Optimist is small, slow and needs to believe and be optimistic. This is about helping the children’s hospital trust and the little optimist build the ICU – and inspire kids.

“I need all the help I can get,” he says, “so please go online and support me; support these kids.”

* To track Mr Bertish and The Little Optimist’s journey in April and/or donate, you can visit www.thelittleoptimist.org

To donate R20 towards the ICU, SMS “ICU” to 40465. Alternately, donations can be made online at www.childrenshospitaltrust.org.za