The Ithemba Foundation


Newsletter February 2021


Hike of Hope for our health workers


What better way to start 2021 than to Hike for Hope, especially to honour our health workers during the pandemic, those who are in the “trenches” daily, giving their all for our health, and also those, sadly, who lost their lives while saving ours? This is what Lizette Rabe, Ithemba founder, and her husband, Anton Hörstmann, will be doing at the end of February when they take on the Namib100 Hike. After initially having had to postpone the year’s first Hike due to Covid-19 restrictions, they will now be doing the year’s second hike from 25 February to 2 March – and they will do it to draw attention to all our health workers who put their lives on the line to save ours.

The Namib100 takes you along the Skeleton Coast with its majestic dunes to your left and the mighty Atlantic to your right. Although it is known as a “slackpack” – you just carry your daypack, while your tent, etc., is driven to each overnight place – the rating level is 6 and 7, so you need to be up for the challenge. This is just the right challenge to kick off 2021 – and it’s also great to be doing it for a good cause. Especially during this time of Covid-19, we should make this a Year of Hope, rather than despair.

Stretching for 20 kilometres a day for five days, the Namib100 starts just south of Walvis Bay and ends at the Eduard Bohlen shipwreck (see Those who have done this unique hike before say it is a once in a lifetime experience. “It takes you through the wildest, most unspoilt place on the planet,” one hiker said, also describing it as “one of the world’s truly iconic hikes”.

It is not only the perfect opportunity to honour our health workers, but also to raise funds for Ithemba’s CrazySocks4Docs (CS4D) Day on 4 June. CS4D Day, launched by Ithemba in 2019, brings attention to the mental health needs of all of our health workers. And after just more than a year of living with Covid-19, we need not only to think of our health workers – the soldiers in the trenches – but also thank them. Ithemba’s CS4D Day will again be an opportunity for health workers, students and faculty in the health sciences, but also us, as Jill and Joe Public, to show we care by wearing funky, mismatched socks to draw attention to the mental health needs of health workers. (Lizette will be wearing mismatched socks every day to draw attention to the mental health of our superheroes.)

How can you get involved? Of course, there is no reason why you cannot start wearing mismatched socks whenever you feel like it to raise awareness of mental health. And you can also add to Ithemba’s fundraising to sponsor bursaries through Ithemba’s GivenGain platform. Lizette and Anton are doing the Namib100 at their own expense and, to get the fundraising going, Lizette has “sponsored” herself by donating R50 per kilometre to add a total of R5 000 to Ithemba’s goal. You can do your personal Hike of Hope for our Health workers, and donate any amount through GivenGain to add your contribution. Ithemba sponsors research into mental health with a variety of bursaries. Interested parties can send an e-mail to to get the template for bursary applications (it must be a postgraduate research project at one of South Africa’s universities). Applications close on Friday, 12 March 2021.

Some of Lizette’s very own happy socks with which she plans to do the Namib100 Hike.


Just ... breathe

Breathing problems, we know, are some of the first symptoms of Covid-19. And you need to take immediate action as soon as you experience symptoms. But, of course, breathing, and breathing well, is important for all of us, especially when times are stressful. That’s also why the first advice when one is anxious is: “Take a deep breath.” It is not only important to pause and breathe for physical health, but also mental health. Our brain uses 20% of our oxygen (and 20% of our energy), even though it is only 2% of total body weight. It is proven, over and over again, that slow, deep breathing helps our brain to function properly.

The World Health Organisation defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. So, help your wellbeing by simply breathing better. It has been proven that slow, deep breathing helps to improve focus and concentration and decreases our stress response by keeping the brain calm by preventing signalling the release of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. It also increases so-called “theta wave” production, the brain activity associated with relaxation, creativity and being calm, and enhances neural plasticity, or the brain cells’ ability to adapt to change.

How can you ensure a healthier brain? Be mindful of the way you breathe. Also, pause every now and then – literally take “breathing breaks”. One such type of breathing is to inhale slowly through your nose and feel how your torso is expanding, hold your breath, and exhale slowly through your mouth. There are many other breathing techniques. Just Google “breathing techniques”, and you’ll find many ways to learn how to breathe better. There is even a breathing technique to help you recover from Covid-19, by the Johns Hopkins Institute (see link below).






How about a mental health plan for the year?

The year is still new enough to ensure you set positive milestones for yourself, especially in the extremely challenging time of Covid-19. So how about setting a mental health plan for the year? In a year like the one we have just experienced, our anxieties and insecurities tend to catch up with us. You may also have had to deal with the emotional challenges of a loved one suffering from Covid-19, or personally experiencing it yourself. Or perhaps you have recently lost a loved one. It is as if we are grieving collectively, especially because the normal cultural and religious rituals cannot be observed.

You need to look after your mental health in the same way that you look after your physical health. For your physical health, you have regular annual health check-ups. That’s right, you have several appointments every year for those annual medical “services”. Even your car has to go for its annual service. Why not do the same for your most important organ, your brain, and your mental health?

The definition of mental wellness is the awareness of your own ability “to cope with stressors of day-to-day life while maintaining the ability to function effectively” in all respects, whether in social, work, learning or other environments. It means you have a “positive sense of well-being and hope, despite our daily stressors and challenges”. Mental well-being is broadly made up of a healthy sense of self, perspective on all matters, psychological “flexibility”, and “daily” maintenance of yourself.

Besides scheduling a (from now on annual) check-in with your GP or a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist for a mental health check-up, you can also develop a mental health wellness plan. Such a plan will help you to keep track of what makes you anxious, what works for you, and what doesn’t. It is your personal road map to ensure you stay on the balancing beam of life, while there are so many things that can upset that delicate balance.



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ITHEMBA FOUNDATION - NPC 2012/171250/08 - PBO 930/048/019