Paula Strydom - There's a voice inside you that wants to lead and guide you... get to know yourself well and be all that you love and that you're passionate about

Paula Strydom - There's a voice inside you that wants to lead and guide you... get to know yourself well and be all that you love and that you're passionate about
Paula Strydom - Creative Director, Heartstrings Community Project

PAULA STRYDOM is the creative director who, with husband Mike, is the big heart behind Heartstrings Community Project. They seek to cultivate a spirit of belonging and community that they envisage will grow South Africa from strength to strength. Based in Crestholme, the initiatives include Heartstrings Trading Co, Calico Heart Clothing, and Livingstone Nursery where people come together to maintain and grow plants which are sold to fund some of Heartstrings' projects in Crestholme and surrounds. At Pilgrims Rest tea garden, tea and coffee are freely available for all, bringing people from all walks of life together. On Saturdays, cake is sold to cover costs and share the beautiful space with visitors.

At the Heartstrings community kitchen, meals are prepared for people in need, including children attending the nearby creche and inner-city people who live on the margins of society - sex workers, addicts, homeless people and those living in shelters. After providing a meal, the Frontier Church ministry, led by Paula and Mike, spend time caring for their emotional needs, as there is often no one in their lives who will hug them and listen to their stories.

A bridge between communities

Heartstrings, explains Paula, is essentially about uplifting communities, empowering people and connecting hearts. The definition of a 'heartstring' is a vein where blood flows from and returns to the heart, giving life; connecting people's hearts provides a two-way flow of life - those that offer blessing find that they are blessed in turn. Paula's motivation behind the community project is to be a heartstring, in essence a bridge between communities where people feel they're outcast, either shunned or marginalised.

Dreaming of building a hall, Paula points to a tent outside and laughs, "That will be a community hall if we can get funds, for people to come together. Sometimes, we just have to start and trust that it will happen; it's an opportunity for someone to put their hand to something and feel that they're doing something for this country, because that's what we're really passionate about."

Paula explains that while Mike was working and they were doing well, they weren't drawn to fancy places, but rather to out of town locations. Moved by the difficult times they witnessed, Paula recounted saying, "you know, somebody should do something", which was the catalyst for answering voices from within that said, "Tag, you're it, do something!" And they did. After praying about it, they felt this calling getting stronger and their focus beginning to shift. They realised that while they were telling everyone, "live your best life and dream", they needed to be part of making those dreams possible. And so they started, with the insight that they should begin with what was at hand. They took stock and knew the time was right; they had a bowl of small change that they'd dropped coins into over time, and a gardener who needed change in his life so, with what amounted to exactly R1000 of small change and the commitment of a certain gardener, they took a leap of faith and began.

Their inspiration was to 'take something that was rubbish' and from it create something that was beautiful and teach others how to do that too. After raiding dumpsters, and purchasing a few items that fitted their décor design, they went home to begin the process of recycling and repurposing. Paula perceives the overall value as far greater than that of the product itself, as it was symbolic of a changing life. From small beginnings seven years ago, they have many initiatives gaining momentum.

Integrity, dignity and respect

Paula describes their success as a result of combining their strengths. "I feel it's the respect of men and women working together hand in hand that actually leads to success." She feels they shouldn't worry about chasing success, but rather worry about what their influence is and what their calling is - if they're authentically themselves, and work within the framework of integrity, dignity and respect, at a level of excellence and hard work, success will follow.
A work-life balance is integral to Paula's family life-style. "Each day is completely unique, it's quite like it is rest. One day we might be doing something administrative, the next something completely creative, so... we're playing at the same time as working. Our balance is in work hard and play hard; we do it all with the passion of our calling and that is our balance, it's how we've done this for seven years."

I would tell my younger self to listen to your intuition... there's a voice inside you that wants to lead and guide you, get to know yourself well, be all that you love and that you're passionate about, and it'll grow and develop from there. Listen to the voice inside of you, and don't be scared to make mistakes. Try things; mistakes are only mistakes when you give up and you don't learn something from them. Every part of who I am today is because there was a young woman who wasn't afraid to try different things. Even if it seems so incredibly diverse, you never know what that's all going to accumulate into. When I look back at all the different things that we were involved in - I feel they are now coming into fruition.

Paula Strydom

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