Meet 26 year old South African, Carla Viktor, the Founder and Executive Director of Dear Palesa and former Miss Earth South Africa.
TBTM was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to sit down with Carla to learn about her journey as a changemaker.
TBTM: Who are you, Carla?
Carla: I’m a small town girl who has always had big, non-conforming dreams and right now I’m on a mission to continue carving out my own little space for the goals and vision in my heart.
I’m a Psychology graduate, but after winning Miss Earth South Africa in 2015 and being able to work with some phenomenal organizations, I realized that my true passion was social development and working on grassroots projects in communities around South Africa.
I subsequently started Dear Palesa and switched my focus area to Gender Studies – I never would have thought that I would end up as a Social Entrepreneur but I’m loving every second of it. Also, I have absolutely no regards for the concept of “impossible” and I wholeheartedly believe that “ordinary” is just a social construct which means nothing.
TBTM: What are you passionate about, what makes you come alive?
Carla: I’m definitely multi-passionate! Whether it’s social development, the environment or the arts, I’m always trying to find ways to make a meaning contribution, to create or to express.
At a fundamental level, I’m passionate about people and storytelling as it is about connecting that golden thread of a person’s personal narrative and sharing it with the world – it’s the concept that we are all connected and that there is power in our individual stories – that drives me. There is story telling in Psychology, there is story telling in outreach work, there is story telling in dancing – so to bring that story to light is what I live for.
On a more extrinsic level I’m extremely passionate about the development of the African continent, especially the shift in focus that we are (finally!) experiencing in development - to utilize the potential of the girl child. I firmly believe that the key to pushing South Africa, and Africa forward lies with the girl child, and I’ve dedicated my life to being part of that movement.
TBTM: Why do you get up in the morning, why do you do what you do?
Carla: I believe there is something greater at work, every day. Call it the universe, call it energy – I call it God – and I know we all receive different talents, abilities and passions for a reason.
The things that make your soul come alive are not random. For me, it’s putting out a ripple effect of leading by example - in whichever way is required of me - and not merely being a person with potential, but actually harvesting that potential to make a meaningful impact. To me this manifests in community work and in my personal life through expressing and creating. I wholeheartedly believe in that quote: when you let your own light shine you unconsciously give others permission to do the same, and that should be our collective goal as a society: to let each and every person’s unique voice be heard.
TBTM: Tell us more about Dear Palesa.
Carla: Dear Palesa is a NPO which focusses on feminine health education and keeping girls in school through providing them with sustainable solutions regarding menstruation and sanitary products. Our main focus is to give girls from disadvantaged and underprivileged communities their dignity back while also providing them with peace of mind.
TBTM: What planted the seed that led to you starting Dear Palesa?
Carla: Dear Palesa was born after a personal encounter with a young girl, Palesa, living in Orange Farm, South Africa. She had started menstruation but had no idea what was going on, let alone what she needed to do and so she hid out in the bathrooms at her school, terrified. I looked around at the existing organizations tackling this problem in SA and realized that there was not any sustainability to them. I didn’t want to simply drop sanitary pads off and leave. I wanted to create a platform for girls to discover and look after their reproductive health.
TBTM: What has been the impact that Dear Palesa has had so far?
Carla: To date we have been able to give over 600 girls from underprivileged communities menstrual cups (most of which were funded by ordinary citizens with big hearts). The plan is to reach the 1000 girls mark before the end of 2016.
TBTM: What has the future got in store for Dear Palesa?
Carla: In 2017 we are setting the goal to increase our current goal of 1000 girls by 10 fold, so we’ll have our work cut out for us – but we’re looking forward to the challenge! We also hope to partner with the Department of Education in partnership with the Department of Health to further our impact. 2017 will also be the first year that we welcome volunteers into the programme – which will definitely increase our reach and bring a different dynamic to the project!
TBTM: What is the most important lesson you have learned on your journey as an agent of change?
Carla: That there is no ‘there’, no final destination where all is good and you’ve figured it all out, and where the work is done. As much as we hear this every day and as difficult as it is in practice – we need to try live in the present.
Also, team work. Find people who share the same vision as you. This journey is much better when you have someone who understands it.
TBTM: Lastly, what advice would you give someone who is just starting out on their journey to make a difference?
Carla: Don’t compare your journey to that of people around you. And don’t worry too much about the fact that other people aren’t on the same path as you. Your path is unique, just like your purpose, passions and talents.
Also, it’s true that you become like the 5 people you spend most of your time with – so choose wisely! I learned this lesson the hard way – and I now pay close attention to allowing people into my life who are going to inspire me on some level.
On the topic of success I would say that success leaves clues. Find people who embody your definition of success and emulate their journey. You don’t always have to have a mentor to be able to be mentored by them, you can immerse yourself in their methods and it will have the same effect.
Carla is one of the mentors in our Hand Up Programme. If you are inspired by her story and want to make your own difference, join the movement or sign up to our Hand Up Programme and stand a chance to get mentored by her.
*Images courtesy of Dear Palesa and Carla