Stéphan Pieterse


Season Two Episode 18: Distance for Difference

Welcome to Season Two of the Charity Matters Podcast! For the past decade, I have focused all of my attention on organizations based in the United States that help people. With over 1.5 million nonprofits in the United
States alone, it seemed like a reasonable perimeter. Like I mentioned last week, people often come into your path for a  reason. When a mutual friend connected me with today’s guest I knew that rules were meant to be bent every now and then.

Stéphan Pieterse is the founder of the South African nonprofit Distance for Difference. His story of challenge, faith, and resilience is one for us all regardless of our country of origin. Stéphan and I  spoke a few months back and he referenced the corruption and social unrest that they were experiencing at the time. This week’s news has more violence in South Africa and is a perfect time to share Stéphan’s message of hope, love, and goodness.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Stéphan PieterseWhat an honor and privilege to be with you today. And you know, hopefully, I’m the first of many stories you can start to share worldwide, there are so many feel-good stories in South Africa as well. And I’m just one person out of 1000s that can tell amazing stories. So it’s for me, it’s an honor to almost represent South Africa today,  with your program.

Heidi Johnson:  At the end of the day, people are good. And it doesn’t matter where they are on the globe, there are amazing things happening all around the world. And sharing those stories, just makes us closer and makes us realize how small our planet has become. And the fact that we’re even having this conversation is a perfect example of it.

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Distance For Difference does?

Stéphan Pieterse: Our main objective is really just to positively impact the lives of children in need. We do this by raising funds for children’s charities, or individuals caring for abandoned or abused children. And we basically raise these funds in two main ways. We have two sporting events,  the gratitude run and then we also have a 24-hour 301-mile cycling endurance event and we call that 500.

Then we also support individual athletes doing something challenging, like swimming across the sea, doing extreme cycling events, ultra marathons and we were even running marathons around their houses like we had to do during the lockdown in South Africa. We set up campaigns for these athletes to help them to market these fundraisers amongst their colleagues and families and friends and so on. We are very serious about the wise and very thoughtful distribution of these funds that are entrusted to us to become a beneficiary of Distance for Difference. 

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  Distance for Difference?

Stéphan Pieterse:  Perhaps the earliest experience of charity was at the age of five when I lost my father in a vehicle accident. And he was only 37 years old at the time was a pastor. My mother was left with four children, the youngest was only eight months old, I was five.  I think it was during those early years that I experienced how it was to be on the receiving end of charity, and so many people really gave me hope for the future. 

My entire outlook on life, and especially doing things for others, changed dramatically during the last few weeks of 1996. We went on a three-week mission trip to India. it was really during those weeks experiencing,  both physical and spiritual sort of poverty of the people of India, that my entire outlook on material things in life really changed. I returned to South Africa, with a totally different outlook. I just had this burning desire to really reach out and help other human beings. And it didn’t all start then, it took another decade after that experience.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

Stéphan Pieterse: One of the biggest things is at times losing hope. There’s so much corruption in this world, also in South Africa. The staggering the figures that they mentioned, in terms of how much corruption costs countries in South Africa. We talk about a figure of 68 billion US dollars. For me, that’s a staggering amount of money. When I use those figures, it sometimes takes the wind out of my sails.  I then think about Distance for Difference and our 10 years of hard work and toil and long hours.  We raised this minuscule little amount in comparison to that figure and that sometimes makes me want to cry. Then I think if we could just take 1% of that amount and distribute that to children in India and South Africa? What impact that would have been? 

Charity Matters: Do you have a favorite motto or phrase?

Stéphan Pieterse: I love the quote by Gandhi,” Be the change you want to see in his world.” You know, that became my catchphrase because there’s so much negativity, especially in our country right now. What is it that I can do to make a small difference? It doesn’t need to be starting an organization like this, just maybe joining some way. This world will be a better place.

How has this journey changed you?

Stéphan Pieterse:  This journey changed me from a self-centered individual who did things for others to feel good and to be recognized into somebody that doesn’t want recognition at all. It made me realize how blessed I am. We all have to think loud and clear about why are we being blessed?  Why are we in such a really fortunate situation?  What do we do with those blessings?

It really just changed me to have an eternal outlook and to know that life on earth is finite.  We are not going to be here forever. What are we doing with the time that we’ve been given? And are we really collecting treasures in heaven? Maybe you have one individual who’s listening right now who thinks that they want to do something? Just go out and start something small. It doesn’t have to be big. Get your family members involved. Start communicating about your desire. Get in contact with us, if you want advice.  Don’t sit and wonder anymore, go out and do and have an impact and make a change. 



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