Ingrid le Roux was born in a small town north of Stockholm, Sweden. A medical doctor, she moved to South Africa with her husband in 1972. Le Roux is the founder and medical director of the Philani Maternal Child Health and Nutrition Trust in Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, South Africa. Philani provides holistic health and nutrition support to women and families in townships; its Mentor Mother programme has been extended to South Africa’s Eastern Cape, as well as to Swaziland and Ethiopia.
Ingrid le Roux was interviewed about her life, career and hope for the future for 200 WOMEN, a book and exhibition project founded on the principle of gender equality comprising original interviews and accompanying photographic portraits. This landmark project is the realisation of an epic global journey to find two hundred women with diverse backgrounds, and to ask them what really matters to them.
Q. What really matters to you?
The work that I’ve done – and continue to do – here in South Africa matters to me. I am energised by it every day of my life. In 1978, some of the medical students I was working with asked me to assist them with a mobile paediatric clinic in Crossroads, one of the numerous illegal townships around Cape Town. I had been working in a hospital that had unlimited resources, but in Crossroads we struggled to get the most basic drugs; after that I couldn’t leave. We initially established a permanent clinic for children suffering from malnutrition, and, with time, another five. The children were coming back with one infection after another, so we knew we had to address the underlying cause of the malnutrition.
As a student I had known how privileged I was, and I remember the paralysis I felt at being so far removed from the reality of suffering. When I started working in Crossroads, it felt like the paralysis was released. We are listening to and hearing what the community is expressing a need for. Our biggest programme is the Mentor Mother Programme, which has become a model for the Department of Health’s Community Health Worker programmes. To be a health worker is hard, and training is vital. This matters to me: to make sure the children in this country can grow up well nourished, and to create a mechanism by which we can achieve that.
Q. What brings you happiness?
Being with my family, and my work. And my faith: it is my base, my stability and my great support.
Q. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Misery is the constant anxiety about survival that I see in the people we work with. As is the burden these people carry – especially the women – of being alone, of suffering domestic violence and illness.
Q. What would you change if you could?
I would give every child a good, solid education.
Q. Which single word do you most identify with?
Kindness. It’s the action that love is based upon.