Hope Springs From Rebecca’s Well in Alexandra Township, South Africa
The shift was drastic. One second we were driving through what looked like typical city sprawl, passing industrial yards, a McDonald’s, and the next moment rubble heaps, and rusted corrugated tin sheds pulsing with people lined the sidewalk. It was as though we passed through some sort of invisible wall into a different reality. The reality that the people of Alexandra Township, which we had just entered, live in is light years away from the gleaming luxury hotels and shopping malls that rise up on the horizon just a few miles away in Sandton which is known to be one of the wealthiest areas in South Africa. Jennifer James and I were headed on our first site visit for our #socialgoodmomsjoburg Global Team of 200 trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, and the impact it had on us would be huge.
It turns out that Sheila Wise Rowe, Executive Director of the Rebecca’s Well project, is from my hometown back in the states. She has lived in South Africa for 8 years where with her experience and Master’s Degree in Psychology she developed the holistic approach of meeting emotional, physical and spiritual needs of at risk teenage girls and women practiced at Rebecca’s Well. Sheila seemed unfazed as she navigated through what is known as one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation. In this area unemployment is at 70% , most of the inhabitants of Alexandra Township live in abject poverty in substandard accommodations, too often it is a young mother with few resources who heads the household.
Rebecca’s Well Projects recognizes that for teenage girls and women to be empowered , they first need to know the inherent wealth they have within themselves, with or without formal education.-Rebecca’s Well
The statistics on sexual violence in South Africa are startling, with a rape occurring every four minutes it has the highest rate of sexual violence against women in the world. Rebecca’s Well is a place for women to find an oasis for regeneration amongst the surrounding results of poverty, and culture of violence against women. The Project began as housing shelter and has grown to sites in Soweto, Parkhurst, and the one we visited in Alexandra, an area affectionately called Alex by locals. Alexandra is one of the oldest Townships in South Africa, the roughly one square mile was initially intended for a population of 70,000. Its population has exploded to over 500,000 including many illegal aliens, squeezing into tight quarters.
Driving through Alex you pass scores of stalls lining the side the road where entrepreneurs offer anything from tailoring services, food & drinks to hair dressing, each trying to eek out a living as best they can. Rebecca’s Well is dedicated to giving women opportunities to better their lives or get a second chance by providing mentoring, training, life skills, faith-based services, healing and workshops. At the Fires Food Den owned by Phumzila Mthethwa, where Rebecca’s Well operates in Alex, Jennifer James and I were able to meet with some of the women who are part of the Rebecca’s Well family.
I spoke with Jabulile, who goes by Jabu, a grandmother who helps to care for the children of two of her sons who passed away as well as her elderly mother. Her daughter in-laws encouraged her to come to Rebecca’s Well to help her heal from her losses. Jabu has lived in Alexandra Township for 10 years in one of the corrugated shacks that she built herself with the help of handymen while she continues to wait to be granted one of the new government built houses n the East Bank area called New Alex. Though she has a night shift job cleaning at the hospital, she is learning how to make crafts to be sold through Rebecca’s Well. Like any mother Jabu said ” I feel like a failure when I can’t give the kids something that they want.”
I also spoke with Bonakele, who like Jabu comes from KwaZulu-Natal and has been in Alex for four years. Three month ago she joined Rebecca’s Well and enjoys sharing ideas with the other women, Bonakele describes it as a place to get strong and appreciates the training, food and spiritual aspect of Rebecca’s Well. When I asked her why she came she said “I want my children to learn more and be better”. Again reminding me how universal our wishes for our children are no matter where we live or what our life circumstance.
The houses in Alexandra Township were initially set up with a shared yard for several homes with an external toilet and shower stall in the center. Although all of the homes have electricity, with the overcrowding of additional shacks built into the yards, some of the toilet facilities might be shared by as many as 12 families. Linky was kind enough to give us a full tour of the township including her own home and the home and yard in which Nelson Mandela had once lived, which is a designated historic site. This was the first place Mandela had ever lived away from home .
Life in Alexandra was exhilarating and precarious. Its atmosphere was alive, its spirit adventurous, its people resourceful…in spite of the hellish aspects of life in Alexandra, the township was also a kind of heaven.- Nelson Mandela 1994 Long Walk To Freedom ABACUS London
The history of the area and how it came to be is fascinating and Phumzila Mthethwa, owner of Fires Food Den has her own amazing story to tell (which you can read in an upcoming post) about how she came sit on the Board of Directors of Rebecca’s Well and house their temporary Alex location. The vibe seems to have remained the same as when Mandela lived there, but hopefully for the women at Rebecca’s Well the “hellish” aspects that he referred to can be overcome.
If you’d like to find out more or to help out, donations can be made to support the programs, teenage girls and women involved in Rebecca’s Well.
I travelled to Johannesburg, South Africa as part of The Global Team of 200, a highly specialized group of members of Mom Bloggers for Social Good that concentrates on issues involving women and girls, children, world hunger and maternal health. Our Motto: Individually we are all-powerful. Together we can change the world. We believe in the power of collective action to help others and believe in ourselves to make this world a better place for our children and the world’s children.