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.
It already seems like a dream that less than a week ago I was in Johannesburg, South Africa as a member of the Global Team of 200, for the #socialgoodmomsjoburg Insight Trip. There I met up with Global Team of 200 founder Jennifer James who arrived by way of Zambia where she had just spent the week with Malaria No More. She had been with them to report on the rolling out of their #PowerofOne campaign to provide malaria tests and treatments for children in regions of Africa, where Malaria claims a child a minute.
So we met in Johannesburg, the second largest city on the African continent with a population of over 3.6 million, its O.R.Tambo airport is the busiest in all of Africa. I’ll be honest, it took us a few days to begin to figure out this massive modern city, that locals refer to as either Joburg or Jozi. There are eleven official languages spoken in Johannesburg, and from our experience, no attempt at political correctness when talking about the three main racial categories its inhabitants are put into. People are plainly referred to as white, black or colored (lighter skin blacks or referring to Indian or Malaysians from what I gather). We were there to meet with Global Team partners and NGOs to get an on the ground look at the issues they tackle first hand.
From the surface Johannesburg could be any large American city, but the vibe is very different, and as Americans one of the first things we noticed was the lingering racial divide. It is also said to be the wealthiest province in South Africa, and while we glimpsed the luxury lifestyles in the suburbs from the outside, our work took us into the homes of the poorest of poor. We witnessed first hand the great disparity of wealth that exists, and as an outsider to a country with so much wealth, is difficult understand at any level.
Johannesburg also has a reputation as being one of the more dangerous cities of the world. Fortunately we never felt threatened in any way and of course used the same common sense we would have in any major metropolitan area. Certainly the townships we visited for our work would be considered some of the most dangerous areas in the city. As in most places, statistically the crime occurs at the highest rate within residents of communities themselves and not on visitors, aside from petty theft, but the warnings are still to be taken seriously. While visiting with the women’s collective Rebecca’s Well we took a walk through Alexandra Township with a local woman from the organization as our guide. Our greetings were met with smiles as people went about their daily lives. The people we met in the township were friendly and some asked to have their pictures taken. When others noticed, they wanted their picture taken too, just to be able to see the images of themselves that I captured with my lens in the viewfinder, laughing or smiling in approval when they did.
One of the launching points for Jennifer’s social good work was her trip several years ago to Kenya as a ONEMom. Her experiences with ONE in Kenya made her realize how valuable the impact of seeing the things we write about first hand was, and that is the experience she decided to give her Global Team of 200 members. Documama is a ONE Moms Community Partner, so we were thrilled to have the opportunity to visit the ONE offices in Johannesburg that are the Headquarters for all of Africa.
South Africa has the highest AIDS rate in the world, so the work of one of our Global Team of 200 partner organizations, Marie Stopes , is critical here where it works to provide services to curtail the spread of the disease. They also provide education and critical family planning services to underserved populations around the city.
In between visits with organizations we toured the area to get a better sense of Johannesburg, and even had the chance to visit a lion reserve outside of the city. In Soweto we made sure to visit the Mandela house, and Hector Peterson square. We got out into the suburbs to see the lifestyle outside of downtown and found areas with amazing restaurants like Melrose Arch and Parkhurst. In Sandton and Rosebank we passed by large modern shopping centers, juxtaposing the Alexandra Township that we knew to be just down the street. It wasn’t until our last day in Joburg when we went to the Neighborgoods Market in Braamfontain, that we found the South Africa we had both expected, or hoped for. In a neighborhood undergoing gentrification downtown we witnessed the type of community interaction we had been looking to see all along. It struck us that apartheid fell just a short twenty years ago. People my age would have been in their mid-twenties already when it ended, and so the young hip crowd that populated the marketplace would truly be the generation to hopefully grow up and change the divided face of Johannesburg. Looking around the diverse crowd, they already are.
I can’t wait to share the insights from our trip and each of our NGO visits throughout the week , each one different, enlightening, and educational in vastly different ways. I hope you’ll join me!
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.