Project empowers women of worth

Pictured at the back is Levona Coetzee, 22, from Eastridge, in front of her, from left are Loiken Stuurman, 23, from Beacon Valley, and ignitor, liaison facilitator for Mitchells Plain, Zeenat Isaacs.

Ten young women from Mitchell’s Plain completed the inaugural Women of Worth programme, a 12-month empowerment initiative aimed at boosting their self-confidence and preparing them for the job market.

The programme, an extension of the multi-faceted Zimele Project, was brought to life with the help and facilitation of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, in collaboration with the provincial Department of Health, funded by the Global Fund. It included a total of 50 participants, aged between 19 and 24, in the Mitchell’s Plain/Klipfontein health sub-district, an area where women are confronted with high HIV infection rates, assault, teenage pregnancy and limited economic opportunities.

The workshops were conducted by the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation’s facilitators, as part of a research study that investigates the power of cash incentives for HIV prevention. Some participants were given money after each session and others not to test whether they would see the value of the workshops and return.

Their fingerprints were scanned after completing each session.

At their graduation ceremony in Philippi Village on Friday May 18, the eight Mitchell’s Plain women who attended the ceremony came dressed in their finery, with crowns on their heads. Two of the 10 young women did not attend their graduation.

Cherry-Lee Frans, 21, from Tafelsig, who has a five-year-old daughter, told the Plainsman she felt empowered and that she had gained a lot of confidence.

In the midst of gang violence, there were times during the past 12 months, that it may have been too dangerous for her to get to sessions, but she persevered.

Ms Frans, who had been abused, said the programme taught her to say “enough is enough” and that it shouldn’t happen to her child. “I’m proud to say I’m a woman of worth (WOW). I value that.”

Ms Frans, who had left school at the end of Grade 10, received a stipend, which she would give to her mother to help put food on the table. She now would like to matriculate and become a pre-school teacher.

Gakeema Abrahams, 22, from Tafelsig, joined the workshops because she had nothing to do. “I’m proud of myself. I’m a shy person. I did not know how to talk to people or to talk to people about my problems,” she said.

She thanked their ignitor and the foundation’s facilitator liaison for Mitchell’s Plain, Zeenat Isaacs, for her support and encouragement.

Ms Abrahams, who had been addicted to alcohol and dagga, said she stopped almost a year ago.

She said while the drugs and alcohol helped her to forget her problems, they had kept her away from her family.

Ms Abrahams said she had been in abusive relationships but now she knew her worth. “I see I have a future and I have boyfriend now, who has helped me a lot,” she said.

“He respects me. He takes me as I am and sees me as a better person and he just wants the best in me.”

Ms Abrahams, who also only has Grade 10, would like to own her own business.She would like to complete matric and a course in business studies.

Ms Isaacs said she was immensely proud of all of the graduates, more specifically, the 10 whom she had mentored, counselled and taught. “I have seen them grow. They’ve shared their lives with me and we are hoping to continue meeting with them,” she said.

Ms Isaacs said during the first session the women open up, share their problems, write it on a piece of paper and at the end they burn it and plant a tree, with the ash.

“So, from something ugly, something beautiful can and will emerge,” she said.

Having joined the programme the women have access to social workers, doctors, nurses and support to further their education or employment.

Out of the 10 women who completed the course, six were mothers, three had been abused and one of them had been raped.

Ms Isaacs said for more than a year she had gone from clinic to clinic in Mitchell’s Plain to encourage women to join the programme.

Today, she is based at the Mitchell’s Plain Indoor Sports and Recreation Centre in Portland, where young women can come to her for support, advice and join the programme Monday to Friday.

Registration starts at 8am and the workshop finishes at 4pm.

She said anyone who identified as a female, could join, including young men who saw themselves as female, disabled or gay.

The workshops are held in various community venues in Mitchell’s Plain and Klipfontein, Gugulethu, Nyanga, Crossroads and Philippi.

The facilitators hope to reach 10 000 women, but each workshop will only host a group of 24 women.

The graduates have also been tasked to recruit their friends, which has also been incentivised.

Women will be assigned to a venue within their own area so that it is convenient for them to attend the workshop and the cost will be minimal to no transport fees.

For more information, call 021 650 7921 or text Ms Isaacs on 074 256 3243.