Pink Ribbons, South Africa

Paint the Town Pink: Pink Trees For Pauline

For a while now, whilst travelling quite extensively in and around many Western Cape towns, including: Wellington, Caledon, Napier, Struisbaai, Bredasdorp, Paarl, Robertson, Stellenbosch, Hermanus, Franschhoek and Swellendam – to mention but a few – these past few months, I gradually started to notice and then curiously noted that many of the trees near monuments, NG kerks/churches (often the stately centerpiece in small Western Cape towns – and for good reason!) and indeed the main street(s) of said towns, are covered – and have been throughout the year – with pink material.

It is attractively wrapped around trunks of all shapes and sizes, belonging to saplings and  old, gnarled trees, and when I saw it for the first time, the thought that immediately sprang to mind was: “It must be some kind of breast cancer awareness initiative.”

I tend to think in ‘cancer terms’ more than most people because I have many loved ones and close friends who have been afflicted by this terrible disease so perhaps it was a ‘lucky’ guess on my part but my curiosity remained for a long while and I needed to know what the tale/drive behind this was.

So, when in doubt: Google. Sure enough, the results and confirmation I needed to further pique my interest and breathe fresh life into the pretty pink-covered leafy streets was found.

Usually, pale pink and indeed the month of October are associated with breast cancer awareness – but this time, it’s an all-year round initiative and it’s not limited to one month… so much the better too!

Also, it’s a dark pinker – a kind of cerise, one might say – and there’s a reason trees around our beautiful country and neighbouring Namibia are turning pink, their trunks lovingly wrapped in a protective kind of bandage – at least, that’s how I like to think  of it.

Many people know that if you damage a tree’s trunk, if you cut or maim it, it literally bleeds and the damage soon spreads, thus impacting the health of the entire tree and, if something is not done to stop or to heal the damage, it quickly causes the tree to wilt, dry up and yes, eventually even to die.

However, if you carefully wrap a protective cloth around it, protecting it from harm, it has a chance to recover.

In a way, cancer affects people in a similar manner. One small tumour, one tiny, abnormal accumulation of ‘rogue cells’ left untreated soon spreads, wreaking havoc and attacking the body’s entire system.

Yet, with timely treatment and caring support, comes hope and new life… for this reason, according to the website http://pinktrees.co.za, pink was the colour of choice for the ‘Pink Trees for Pauline’ non-profit company and later, its awareness initiative.

So what’s the real very human story behind the trees which are “wrapped in colour, united in hope”? It is a simple, yet heart-wrenching one.

‘Pink Trees For Pauline’ (2012) was started by Carol-Ann van Jaarsvelt after she had lost both her mother and grandmother – both named Pauline – to breast cancer and because these women had been such strong inspirations in her life, what began as one woman’s desire to “communicate the legacy” of two beloved and deeply respected women soon turned into a reality for Carol-Ann and many others beside in her hometown of Graaff-Reinet, as the trees lining the town’s roads quickly started turning pink for hope and new life.

Adri van Nieuwenhuizen, herself a breast cancer survivor, and Educational Psychologist, Dr Pam Kerr, soon helped Carol-Ann to found the ‘Pink Trees for Pauline’ organisation and soon the purpose – which is to: “create awareness, unite communities and raise money” – behind this initiative snowballed and, as a first, has, since its inception in 2012, seen much of the general public and registered S.A. cancer-related organisations, like CANSA, getting involved.

This is why today you can see many tree trunks near public areas and streets draped with pink material, which to the founders and those now involved in this initiative, signifies “new life during and after cancer”.

The pink fabric, which costs a minimum of R 20 per metre, can be purchased by any and all businesses and individuals, who can then choose to place it on/around trees that line streets and/or public areas as mentioned in the previous paragraph.

You can also sponsor someone or even an area in your community that is less advantaged, thereby ensuring that everyone in a community or town can be part of this brave and beautiful gesture… because we all know a ‘Pauline’ in some way or form, be she a loved one, friend or acquaintance.

For anyone who chooses to join in and literally partake, the tree wrapping events always culminate at 10:00 a.m. with the ringing of church bells.

There is no limit to the amount of material one can purchase or sponsor and 80% of the funds raised will be used to help improve the lives of those living with the dread disease that is cancer in participating towns.

Funds will go towards the following:

1) Accommodation (for patients undergoing treatment)

2) Home nursing

3) Feeding schemes for affected patients

4) Training cancer-buddies

5) Training social workers

6) Supplying wigs, prosthesis or wheelchairs

7) Providing hospitalised children with toys and playpens

And finally, helping to meet transport needs etc.

My only wish is that more awareness will be created – because there’s no obvious signage or explanation close at hand near the trees so unless you do some research or have heard of the campaign, you could easily be puzzled as to why the trees are covered in pink and to me, that’s a shame because this story deserves to be told. People need to know what it’s about in order to really understand or get behind it…

Still, it’s relatively early days yet – hopefully in time, most, if not all, towns in South Africa will join in, turning their trees pink in the process, and the people residing here in S.A. or passing through will know why.

However, for more information, please see the ‘Pink Trees for Pauline’ Facebook page, which has around 3028 likes, at: http://facebook.com/PinkTreesForPauline and while you’re there, why not ‘Like’ their page or share it with your friends?

Or, for the sharing of ideas and thoughts or input, queries and sponsorships on this noble cause, please visit their site – which says it is “made with love” – at: http://pinktrees.co.za or contact Managing Director, Adri van Nieuwenhuizen at: adri@pinktrees.co.za or telephonically at: +27 (082) 4606 386.

So now if you see pink material wrapped around the trees in your hometown or any town around the country and in Namib., you will know what it signifies… they say knowledge is power and when and if you can, I hope you will use that power to help in this cause and many others of its kind that are sure to follow.

Because so many of us have known or know a Pauline… let’s paint the towns pink! 🙂

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Pictured above: the logo and an example of the pink trees one can find countrywide now.

(I wish to thank the founders for this beautiful initiative and the helpful information found on their lovely site which was used in this post.)

Below are some photos I took in the Western Cape towns of Caledon and Wellington this year:

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Monumental: A pink tree found in Wellington.

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Above: Shots of Caledon’s church and avenue of trees covered in pink material.

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