Power woman

Power woman

Who says it’s a man’s world? Academic lecturer, scientist and paddling enthusiast Dr Thea van der Westhuizen has proven that it most certainly is not. And if that wasn’t enough, she’s doing her bit to save the planet too.

She has over 10 years’ international work experience under her belt, has visited over 30 countries, recently finished her doctorate and is a lecturer at the University of KZN, but Thea finds her solace paddling in the ocean.

“I’m a passionate soul and I feel most at peace in the ocean and wide open nature spaces. Although my job requires me to be in public spheres, interacting with people a lot, I’m very much an introvert who prefers spending time with a couple of close, special friends.”

Thea’s interest in paddling started eight years ago, when she was in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

“I needed a radical lifestyle change and longed for a healthier approach to life. I went from a size 18 to a 12 through adjusting my lifestyle and paddling.”

In just over six years, Thea has gone on to become one of three international directors for Paddle For the Planet, an NPO registered in her name, that aims at uniting paddlers around the world for a one-day global relay event in an effort to raise environmental awareness and provide financial support for marine conservation specifically in marine protected areas.

“I’m responsible for operations, business development and the organisation of the global event which takes place over 25 countries annually. Paddle for the Planet creates an opportunity to make a difference. Often, when faced with the magnitude of environmental issues, a person is left feeling overwhelmed and as if there is nothing that can be done. We want to allow all paddlers the opportunity to help.”

The event is an annual highlight for Thea who enjoys seeing the paddling communities around getting together annually to help raise awareness on marine conservation and raise funds.

Thea has also founded a project called SHAPE (Shifting Hope, Activating Potential Entrepreneurship), which aims to develop leadership and capacitate entrepreneurs in our community. Like the majority of South Africans, Thea is concerned about the present unrest amongst the South African student population, and the fact that there is a 62% unemployment rate.

“We need to inspire people before we educate them. Leaders need to inspire the youth. Inspiration fuels passion and the drive and will to succeed.”

She was recently awarded  the 2017 Thuthuka Grant for the SHAPE project by the National Research Foundation and Department of Science and Technology, which will make bursary opportunities available for students interested in further pursuing their studies.


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