“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”
Our Something Significant series is about real men and women who have done great things in the world. Martha van Duren is one of those people. She is a very wise and loving woman that I am honored to call my friend.
At Happy Living we believe significance is a foundation of health and a key to overall happiness. The pursuit of significance is what gives life meaning, focus, and purpose. Martha has been living such a life, certainly from the moment she decided to build a school in Zimbabwe more than three decades ago. Reading her interview, you will see that Martha epitomizes at least four of our Seven Foundations of Health: Significance, Love, Adventure, and Spiritual Fitness. I have no doubt that if we had more time with her, she could also teach us plenty about the other three.
Martha is the Founder of the Durlstone Foundation. Her mission is to provide the children of her region in Zimbabwe the opportunity to have nine years of elementary education. You can support her mission by making a donation today. Please give what you can, when you can!
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got where you are today?
I grew up in the Netherlands and immigrated to Zimbabwe in 1979 where I have been living for the last 36 years of my life. It was a very scary move from a safe West European country to a country which was in an ugly war at that time. It has been a very rocky 36 years with experiences I never ever imagined would happen to a shy girl who was raised on a Dutch farm.
My parents where farmers and not very wealthy, my mom often had to help my dad on the farm to make ends meet. As the eldest of 6 children, this meant that I had to do her tasks in the home and look after the youngest children. However, we had a reasonably happy childhood and through the experience I learned to work and be disciplined.
When I married my late husband Herman, I knew from the start that he wanted to go back to Zimbabwe (still Rhodesia at that time), the country where he lived before and loved. Personally I found it very daunting and had many sleepless nights with the prospect of moving so far away from my Dutch family whom I loved, with 2 young children to a country at war. You could ask, why you did it? The answer I think is that I loved and respected my husband, and had a sense of adventure and a gut feeling that was the place I wanted to be.
I mentioned before we had rocky times, but I feel so blessed that I have lived a very interesting life and still do. We started farming from scratch in very insecure circumstances and made it into a successful enterprise. As our farm is very rural and schools for the children where wide and far apart, we decided to build a school for the children of our employees. This all started with 2 classrooms and 25 pupils and has grown into a school of 830 children with 19 classrooms and a library – it’s our wish to start a computer room next year and introduce our children to the digital world. Finding significance for me is in helping others to help themselves to have a better future, even if they have a very poor background.
How has significance played a role in your journey?
When I became a Christian it made me aware that I don’t just live for myself, but have to give and share to become the real person I am meant to be – do this with a whole heart and the rewards of real contentment and happiness are enormous.
We started Durlstone School in 1981 and it has grown from 25 children initially to 830 pupils today. For me to give our Durlstone Foundation children 9 years of basic education in a safe, child-friendly environment makes me feel humble and grateful that I’m entrusted to do this work.
Was there a specific moment or situation when you became aware of those things that are most significant to you?
I believe there is more than a specific moment in one’s life and it mostly depends on the choices we make. For me, having children and grandchildren, and also finding my real soul mate in life, are moments of significance next to realizing that I can make a difference in the future of our Durlstone children.
What obstacles have you faced in your pursuit of significance? How did you overcome them?
I believe the most important obstacle can be yourself. We all know in our heart what we should and shouldn’t do. But, are we prepared to sacrifice and have the courage and self-discipline to reach our goals? Use your energy wisely for what is really important in life.
What is one thing you wish you knew 10 years ago?
Doing what you believe in and don’t have sleepless nights about that. If you know in your heart you have made the right decision, look ahead and not back, get on with it.
What is one thing you hope for the next 10 years?
That together with the friends of Durlstone Foundation we can continue to give a decent education in a safe and child-friendly environment, but also to improve the education in our neighboring schools.
Are there any books or resources you would like to recommend to our readers?
I love Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. To me this describes what believing in your goal means and not to give up, no matter what. He sacrificed 27 years of his life in prison, he was an angry man to start with but throughout the years he didn’t change for what he believed in, “A free South Africa for all,” but his heart softened. Instead of hatred there came an understanding towards all people and it was not a racist matter anymore. He wanted a South Africa where everybody had a voice to be heard and treated with respect and dignity. For me he is one of the greatest leaders in the world and an example to us all.
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