Reader Profile - Helping Hands
On the afternoon of 11 May, 2000 Ferdi van Eeden went to collect his newly repaired motorcycle. He was on his way home when a motorist suddenly turned in front of him and they collided. Ferdi flew through the air and was rushed to hospital with a broken back at vertebrae T6 to T8. His chances of survival were slim. He underwent two emergency operations to remove broken bones and ribs and now has 16 screws and two long pins in his back!
Just two months after the accident he was discharged from hospital and went home to Ficksburg, where his parents live, to start his real world rehabilition and, with the help of his parents and brother, to start living his life again.
Six years later he took part in the annual Quads 4 Quads riding from Ballito to Johannesburg with Ari Seirlis. With his love of bikes still firmly in place Ferdi now rides almost every weekend.
In 2008 he took the next momentous step in his life. "I married a beautiful, caring girl, Gazell¨, who took careful pains to acquire as much information as possible on every aspect of disabled care. We live, happily married, in Ficksburg and work at our family printing business.
The Eastern Free State where they live is renowned for winter veld fires. Last year the region was declared a disaster area when more than 60,000 hectares were destroyed by fire. According to Ferdi, most of them were avoidable. "The fires are usually started by informal settlers who believe that a veld fire will bring rain. Other culprits include cigarette butts flicked out of car windows and, on rare occasions,lightning."
In 2008 the town lacked a proper fire department so residents fought fires privately. One of Ferdi's friends got involved and Ferdi decided to help. He and his friend started a volunteer team of six members offering a 24/7 fire fighting response and in 2009 Ferdi adapted his bakkie into a fire-fighting vehicle, equipped with a two-way radio connected to all the farmers in the area.
Ferdi fought more than 40 firesduring last year's inferno. Some burned through the night as extinguishing them can take over 12 hours.
In summer when fire risk is less the members accompany the local Fire Department to local schools where they show the learners how a fire is fought and make them aware of the dangers ofplaying with fire.
Residents of nearby Meqheleng recently protested against poor service delivery and the volunteer fire fighters discovered that there had been no running water in the town for almost four years. "A group of volunteers started delivering water to them inwater-tanks."
In recognition of Ferdi's service to the farming community the residents recently presented him with a wheelchair from the USA. But "Ficksburg is not a very wheelchair friendly town so I had to acquire the services of a helper, Jesaja Vries. He is now also a member of ourfire-fighting team!"
The vehicles are subjected to enormous strain, mainly because of the terrain traversed to reach the fires. As volunteers use their own vehicles the members established a trust enabling themto raise funds for the purchase of a vehicle to be used exclusively for fighting fires.
Ferdi is also involved in the Community Policing Forum (CPF) and patrols the town's streets at night as part of their "White Light" project to reduce crime.
As if that is not enough for one man, the Round Table recently invited Ferdi to join them and he is looking forward to working with them on their community projects! All of this on top of his day job at the printing business!
Ferdi does more in a year than many able-bodied people do in a lifetime. Where does he find the determination and stamina? "learned at an early age to NEVER EVER GIVE UP!!!!!"