Help from afar for couple who lost all at Woodridge

Chris and Mariksa Kukard who lost their home in the fires at Woodridge College
Picture: Riaan Marais

Old friend in UK starts online fundraiser to help Kukards rebuild lives after fire

A tragedy that rekindled a childhood friendship elicited donations from as far as the UK for a couple who lost everything in the fires at Woodridge College nearly two weeks ago.

Chris Kukard, 40, was left speechless when an old friend, from his days at Umtata High School in Mthatha, reached out from London to set up an online fundraiser to help him and his wife Mariska, 40, rebuild their lives.

“I did not know what to say. I was completely overwhelmed by this amazing gesture,” Kukard said.

“What shocked me even more was the amount of support the fundraiser is getting from people I have never heard of.

“I get a lump in my throat every time I just think about it.”

Chris received a message from old school friend Wendy Savides, based in London, asking his permission to start a campaign on fundraising platform

The page has raised more than £220 (about R3 600) for the couple since Wednesday.

“Chris and I grew up in the same street and spent most of our childhoods having great fun, playing with our siblings and friends,” Savides said.

“Sadly, it’s taken an event like this to bring us back together and remember the bonds we made as children. To help them rebuild their lives, a crowdfunding page has been set up.”

The target for the fundraiser was set at £300, but it will continue now.

Donations from all over the world have come in with the largest amount of £50 coming from an anonymous donor.

Mariska works as the catering manager at Woodridge, while Chris helps coach the school’s under-15 rugby team.

Chris remembered the phone call he received from Mariska on June 11 to come help her at the house as the fires were creeping closer.

“I was on my way to a school rugby game in Despatch. I was in the car about to leave when Mariska phoned,” he said.

“By the time I got to our house, right next to the school kitchen, the smoke was extremely thick.

“She told me to grab some clothes, but we were both more concerned with saving our pets.

“We took our dogs, rats and hamsters to the car. We even managed to get our three fish out of their bowl and transported them in an old coffee bottle.”

That night they stayed with Mariska’s mother in Port Elizabeth with little more than their pets and the clothes they were wearing.

“Around 6.30pm I got pictures of the fire at the school. When I saw our house burning I was gutted,” Chris said.

However, the couple have since found a place to stay with friends in the city and are still active at the school.

Mariska is part of the cooking staff who help feed firefighters still working in the area.

“No matter how bad our situation is, there are more people out there who have it worse than us. Nearby, and in Knysna, people lost their lives,” she said.

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