Dr Jopie van Rooyen founded Jopie van Rooyen and Partners, which later became the JVR Africa Group, in 1993 with her daughter Dr Jopie de Beer. Dr van Rooyen is turning 90 in July this year, and lives in a retirement village in Bloemfontein. She remains as entrepreneurial as ever, and we are very proud of her efforts!

By Dr Jopie van Rooyen

Living in a house with a private garden, a car you can use whenever you feel the need to do some shopping or visit a restaurant with friends, is like a dream come true after decades of earning a living from 8 to 5. Neighbours become new friends and it is your choice to “isolate or socialise” as you wish. There is freedom in living in a secure retirement village and it is a privilege to “do your own thing” - until the COVID-19 pandemic is declared and the Village is placed in “lockdown”.


Walkabouts become curtailed by social distancing, shopping must focus on buying through the internet or relying on the goodwill of friends and children and sharing information with the neighbour requires shouting over a distance of meters with masks over mouth and nose. Suddenly you feel “locked-in”, with long days of “what to do” and connectedness with others requiring how to use Whatsapp and Skype!! Any crisis always creates new challenges. But should we, as “sheltered elders” merely isolate ourselves to avoid infections or could we become involved in some social responsibility actions contributing to dealing with the virus?


Before the lockdown in March, my son shared his worries about the possible need for face masks at hospitals when numbers of patients were to increase. If the virus were to become a crisis could ladies in the Village contribute by making material face masks for those who would need them? Just in case something happens.


On 17 March it was announced that the country would be placed on lockdown. This allowed for three days to get what was necessary to remain home for three weeks - thus no time to procrastinate. And then I remembered the request for face masks! Only two days left to get what would be necessary to make them.


Not being a needlewoman myself, I phoned Ishmael of Abrahams Materials. He must have heard this lady has ideas but was lost when it comes to how to create professional material face masks. Within minutes we however had determined the best cotton material, colour, sewing thread, and elastic, and enough material needed to make 100 masks. Ishmael made up the order and personally brought it to the Village.


Now, all was set to make the masks but who could ensure production? Four phone calls later I realised I have the goods but none of those I phoned could help me. They no longer had sewing machines.

The next morning, I started phoning again, and Lorena, who does beautiful needlework, said yes but do you have a pattern? I had and shared it with her. The following day Rina phoned, she had heard I was looking for help and she is ready to assist. By now Ishmael had already closed his shop but we were ready for 100 masks and the process started. We make the masks for free to for whoever needs one. So, no financial hassles. Things started slowly but as people learnt that masks were available in the Village, requests followed by those who had reasons to travel.


And then we received a request for masks for patients who come for dialysis to the hospital. They have to use Combi-taxi’s and to curb the virus passengers have to wear masks. This added costs to patients with very low income, so we decided to make more masks, but the shops were closed, and our material was finished. I phoned my daughter in Johannesburg because I knew she had planned to make masks but due to work pressure did not get to it. Rina who lives in the Village said she will get Guy Couriers to collect what was needed in Johannesburg, because the masks will be for use at the hospital for dialysis patients.


The materials arrived here within 24 hours and production picked up again. We also sent a request through the Village for more material and a number of ladies brought what they had available and a small work team was created with Rina (whose machine had problems) collecting material, Elene and Miem cutting masks, and Jolena making them. This mini-production process in our Retirement Village has contributed to a small process of connectiveness, because as we move through it, people are asking how it is going or can we please supply them with masks for their families or for people on the farm.


The masks that are currently made are collected by either Henk or Nicoline depending on who is available. They are both medical doctors and thus can more freely move about. In the almost four weeks of lockdown we have made and distributed more than 360 masks for free distribution and 50 more are already cut and waiting to be stitched. Jolena has also made face masks, found to be of value for children attending outpatients with their mothers. These masks are also given to couriers delivering products in the Village but with no face mask - they can keep it when they leave again.

The lockdown has now been extended for another two weeks but because of co-operative efforts and feelings of social responsibility, masks will be made as long as Jolena and her sewing machine works and even when Rina’s machine can be fixed to assist in meeting the demand.