Platform for young women to tell their stories

Participants in and partners of the Life Through a Lens project, from left, Moejaida Williams, Sharia Jacobs, Cheramy Albertus, Toni Hendricks, Greg Kannemeyer, principal of Beacon Hill High, Dr Floretta Boonzaier from the University of Cape Town, Shameelah Domingo, Juven Rituals, chairperson of the Beacon Hill Alumni Society, Ursula Damon, the library teacher, Koebrah Karriem, Ashika Scholtz and Shay-Lyn Carelse.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) has partnered with Beacon Hill High School in Beacon Valley as part of a project to help young women tell their stories, specifically focusing on the challenges they face growing up in Mitchell’s Plain.

A photo-story exhibition titled Life Through a Lens was launched at Beacon Hill High School’s library on September 10.

The pupils who participated in the project were joined by their parents, current and former teachers and the school’s principal, Gregory Kannemeyer, as well as representatives of UCT.

The Western Cape Education Department, represented by director Glen van Harte, the Mitchell’s Plain Bursary and Role Model Trust and Mark Engelbrecht, a former Beacon Hill High teacher who is now principal of Heathfield High School, were also in attendance.

Dr Floretta Boonzaier, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at UCT who matriculated from Beacon Hill High in 1991, led the project and worked with the pupils over several months to tell their stories.

She said the exhibition was part of a larger, ongoing research project at UCT’s psychology department which involved several groups of young people telling their stories and talking about the issues which affect them. “This is a very important and powerful moment of the project because the learners are sharing their work with their parents, teachers, fellow classmates and others in the community,” said Dr Boonzaier. “By sharing their work, these young women are also inviting the community to engage with them on what they have been learning through this process.”

Dr Boonzaier said she was especially proud to have participated in the project at Beacon Hill because it held so much significance for her personally. “This is the school from which I matriculated in 1991. In many ways Beacon Hill provided the foundation for who I have become and it’s been amazing to come back to my school, to see the sense of community being created here and to really feel at home here.”

The exhibition entailed capturing in pictures and words the individual story of each pupil who participated in the project. The final product was displayed on a board, with each one telling their story through their own eyes and in their own words.

Toni Hendricks, one of the eight pupils who took part in the project, shared her views on the story which she crafted through the project: “Life is never easy but you have choices to make in life and you can choose the road that takes you on a journey to success. We have to dream big to achieve the things that we want out of life, difficult as it may be.”

Principal Greg Kannemeyer said the project gave an interesting perspective on life at the school. “This exhibition takes us on a journey to help all of us understand what our learners are experiencing, to understand what they are going through and to see life through a different lens which may make us appreciate the difficulties of growing up in this neighbourhood,” said Mr Kannemeyer.

Juven Rittels, chairman of the Beacon Hill Alumni Society, said the Life through a Lens project was a sterling example of what could be achieved when underprivileged schools used their resources and networks. “The alumni society at Beacon Hill High is working hard to prove that those people who matriculated from our school want to plough back into their community, and particularly into the school that helped to shape their lives,” said Mr Rittels. “We are extremely proud of Dr Boonzaier because she represents the best of what Beacon Hill has produced, including many professionals and productive citizens of South Africa who come from our school. We believe that every high school in Mitchell’s Plain and other areas of the Cape Flats can do the same.”

Jeremy Michaels is a Beacon Hill High matriculant, a founding member of the school’s alumni society and serves as a trustee of the Mitchell’s Plain Bursary and Role Model Trust.