Chaeli Mycroft, is the youngest ever finalist in the Shoprite Checkers / SABC 2 Woman of the Year Award. When she was just nine years old, she founded the Chaeli Campaign with her sister and three young friends in order to create awareness and provide for the mobility and educational needs of disabled children.
Chaeli’s success has not surprised Zelda, her mother, who says: “Our children have always played creatively. Every holiday, for example, they would make a music video or a soap opera.” So when Chaeli came up with the concept to raise money to buy herself a motorised wheelchair, Zelda thought it was “just another play session”. “Even when the five of them – the two sisters and three friends - raced off that first afternoon to promote the campaign and raise some funds, I thought it was something they would lose interest in after a while.” That afternoon Chaeli and her siblings raised R280,00. Today the Chaeli Campaign is a non-profit organisation with one full time employee (Zelda) that has, amongst others, provided for a physiotherapy programme for 15 disabled children at the Ocean View Centre and has raised enough funds to provide mobility needs for 38 disabled children.
Chaeli, explains her mother, was born with cerebral palsy (CP) as well as a degenerative neuropathy affecting the muscles in her arms and legs. “However she was only diagnosed with this at 11 months. So, it was easy for us as to love our perfect daughter at birth and when we found out she had CP we just continued to love our perfect daughter.” While to Zelda Chaeli may be the perfect daughter, Chaeli has other ideas.
When she was nominated for the Shoprite Checkers / SABC 2 Woman of the Year Award, she was the one to remind her mother that it was not she alone, but her friends, sister and herself who had started The Chaeli Campaign. “This is the type of person Chaeli is,” says Zelda, “and part of the reason for this is that her integration into mainstream society is real and true. She knows she has something to offer and it is not a disability. She also knows she can help others because of this and that it is something worthwhile. This is the key to The Chaeli Campaign.” Not to mention the spontaneous openness that has drawn people from all over the country to this inspirational young girl. “Chaeli may only weigh 20kg, but her spirit is so much larger than her body. People are drawn to her as she has an enormous capacity for helping others. Her sister chooses to spend time with her. She does not have too, but she likes too. As do her friends. She is an inspirational person.”
Part of Chaeli’s inspiration is also the understanding she exhibits of the world around her, despite her young age. When working to raise the funds for her wheelchair, Chaeli’s whole class chipped in to help make sunshine pots Zelda explains. When the last class mate had left and Zelda and Chaeli sat back, exhausted, Zelda remarked to Chaeli that she has wonderful friends working for her. “Chaeli immediately chastised me and said: They are not working for me, they are working with me.”
And boy do Chaeli and the team work hard. “We are all working members of the Campaign. For example, we addressed Vodacom’s staff members in Cape Town and Johannesburg as part of the organisation’s Women’s Day celebrations. When we do motivational speaking like this, I cue the girls and off they go. It is amazing to watch them, ranging from ages 7 to 14, speaking without any notes, confidently, in front of 200 people.” This year the Chaeli Campaign celebrates its 1st birthday as a Non-Profit Organisation. It remains as unique as the day Chaeli founded it with her friends and sports the same maxim: “Administered by Adults - Powered by Kids”. For further information about the Chaeli Campaign go to www.chaelicampaign.co.za