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South African Conference


Saturday 14th June 2008 saw the launch of Matthew's Friends South Africa. This was done by way of Ketogenic Diet Conference that was held at the Midrand Conference Centre in Midrand, Johannesburg. Presentations were made from parents as well as dieticians and a doctor.

Emma Williams and Lesley Coyne travelled out to South Africa to help launch the charity, whilst Leigh Barkas who is now the CEO of Matthew's Friends South Africa was also in attendance with her husband Vince. The day started off with Emma and Leigh welcoming everybody to this new exciting venture.

Then it was followed by Dr Simon Strachan who did a fantastic presentation on how he promotes the diet and how he works with Dr Tuschka du Toit, the Matthew's Friends dietician in South Africa, in treating his patients.

This was followed by a presentation by our very own Tuschka, with some help from her colleague Kath Megaw and they explained the dietician's role of the diet and the different types of the diet and supplementations that are needed.

There was a lively Question and Answer time and followed by lunch and stands.

The afternoon session kicked off with Leigh Barkas giving Marshall's Story, which was a very moving account and how the diet is maybe daunting but not difficult, also how Leigh got involved with Matthew's Friends and why she wants to take on the role of furthering the information and support for the diet in South Africa.

Alice Williams, Matthew's sister also presented a very touching piece regarding her brother at the conference. Giving an overview of how it had affected her and her family from a siblings point of view. Needless to say, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Following that, came a presentation from the SHS/Nutricia team, Kevin and William presented giving details of different products that were available to help parents with the diet and how to get hold of them.

Again that was followed by a Question and Answer time. Then we went on to the sort of section 2 of the afternoon which is the support network.

Emma presented details on Matthew's Friends and what the charity actually does in the UK, what we are looking to do in South Africa, together with the development of the South African website.

This was followed by a very very moving presentation by Lesley Coyne. Which not only gave details of how she got involved in being an MF Regional Co-ordinator and obviously encouraging people in South Africa to get involved and become part of the team, but also she gave an account of her two children, Jonathan and Jennifer who both had epilepsy and were both treated with the Ketogenic Diet. Once again the time came where there was not a dry eye in the house, as anyone who has listened to Lesley's story can vouch for.

In a very poignant part of the day, Leigh Barkas summed up the end of the day and the day was seen as a sort of a rite of passage with Emma and Leigh starting things off and at the end of the day, Emma handing over the reins of Matthew's Friends in South Africa to Leigh, who will carry on the cause and the work that Emma started, obviously with the support of the MF UK team.

We will take into account all the comments that were made on the feedback sheets and when MF South Africa run their next conference, obviously more workshops will be done.

Several newspaper articles are being done on the follow up of the conference and we were delighted to see that Epilepsy South Africa was also in attendance. We look forward to working with them closely in the future.

It seems like we have a possible two Regional Co-ordinators which came out of the day, and they will be able to assist Leigh and Tuschka in the work that they do over in South Africa and the wheels are in motion in order to expand the website with relevant information for their areas.

On behalf of the MF UK team, we wish them all the luck in the world and will support them all we can.


Emma Williams - Founder/Chief Executive



SA - "an opportunity I couldn't miss -help launch the charity in SA.The conference was great, made a few people cry again (Vincent, I'm not mentioning any names!). Fantastic to meet up with Leigh again and the difference I saw in Marshall was unbelievable from 2 years ago - quite emotional for me and gave me hopefor Jenny. I will never forget this experience - we laughed, we cried and we had a fab time".

Lesley Coyne
MF Regional Co-ordinator - Scotland 

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