Founder of Lunchbox Theatre turned challenges to positive outcomes

Have you ever launched a brand new business and brand new baby at the same time? Moved to another town? Tried to persuade others that, not only is your great proposal sound and in need of financial support, but that it will benefit many, forever? Have you ever lost all your possessions, memorabilia and home?

Stuart Palmer, Founder of Lunchbox Theatre, is no stranger to regeneration. After being the first homeowner to lose his home in the Garden Route Fires, he shares his motivating story.

“On the 28th, the last day of February 2017 I came out of conducting a Workshop and took the phone call that would change our lives forever. A voice said, ‘Your house is on fire! Minutes later I was watching it burn to the ground, with incredulous tears running down my face. I phoned my wife and said, “Our home is gone!?!!”

Little did Stu know that by June 2017 over one thousand other families would experience the same fate! Being the positive leader that he is, this tragedy led to a reflection on the journey of establishing Lunchbox Theatre with the intention to encourage others who have faced similar ordeals to persevere, no matter what.

Stuart shares his story …

“In 2008 I was an actor in Cape Town working mainly for an innovative NPO, Jungle Theatre which successfully educates children about important social and environmental issues.

When our daughter, Anela, was born my wife motivated for a return to her hometown, Plettenberg Bay. I embraced the challenge as we wanted our kids to be Nature Lovers, like us.

With Jungle Theatre’s blessing, it was only natural for me to want to bring the winning formula which changes lives to the Garden Route. I set up Lunchbox Theatre. Lunchbox is synonymous with kids and schools. It is, ideally, bursting with goodies that are filling, wholesome, healthy, refreshing and sweet. A real treat, just like the Lunchbox Shows that the kids relish.

It was very tough going in the beginning. Few schools, local authorities or governmental departments had embraced of the concept of staging live theatre shows that can change the course of history in South African society. Funding was very hard to come by. I sometimes wondered if I was doing the right thing.

Encouragement came when I attracted some great local actors. Most of our original team members are still with Lunchbox today. Our first show was A Dog’s Life which is still, as an animal lover, my favourite show! After a harrowing time, a breakthrough came when we received our first funding from the National Arts Council. As soon as they saw our shows we earned ‘buy in’ from our target audiences … and we were onwards and upwards!

Now nearly 10 years later we have been supported by many forward thinking governmental and private supporters. We are proud to have educated nearly 130 000 children. You can imagine that staging over 700 shows has taken a lot of passion and commitment from the team.

We travel to towns, cities and remote rural villages and we teach children about how to conserve water, look after animals, manage waste, say ‘No!’ to potential abusers, avoid the scourge of Aids and appreciate our wonderful, diverse natural environment and amazing animals. And best of all is that they teach their parents!

When our family are missing ‘home’ I sometimes wish the fire had arrived just one day later than 28 February. That would have been 29 February and, being in 2017, it would not have arrived as it was not a Leap Year! In other words, this life altering experience would not have happened. However, then I remember what gifts perseverance brings.

It has been a tough year, especially on our kids. We were uprooted so unexpectedly it was like their foundations disappeared. Since then we have been moving from one temporary home to another. However our ‘travelling companions’, consisting of so many caring and supportive people, have made the trip worthwhile … while we rebuild. When you are building something up you have to rely on support. When you become stronger, you tend to give more support than you get. This experience has taught us that we are never without need of support of each other. We would like to thank all those people who came forward to help us. You know who you are!

What do I wish for in the future besides being settled into our new home? I would like my loyal Lunchbox Team to continue to grow and attain financial security so that they can shift the next generation into people filled with respect, understanding and love for nature and their role in it.

Life is an exciting journey of ‘problem – solution – problem – solution for as long as you are on Earth. There will be trying times. The outcome is dependent on your attitude so, to everyone out there ‘Stay Strong’! ‘When life gives you Lemons, find a way to make Lemonade’. ‘Lemonade’ is the perfect accompaniment to our ‘Lunchbox’.

Having learned to accept with grace, I can now gratefully accept any monthly donations from anyone inspired towards making the Lunchbox Team’s Dream come true. Feel free to Donate and thank you in advance.”