ST. Anne’s Women’s Homes began when an Anglican group set up a home for 25 women in 1904 in answer to the needs of the many homeless and destitute women in Cape Town. Since then, many aspects of the NGO have been adapted to more appropriately meet the needs of women.
Today police and social workers take women and their children who end up on the streets to the shelters, where they are looked after for up to ten months. The shelter provides all necessaries as well as vocational and spiritual training and support, with the aim of helping women find employment.
If unable to return home, women who have found jobs can then go on to the women’s home, which offers more independent, safe accommodation with other women in similar situations, where they can stay for up to a year until they have found their feet.
Women’s Rights Interns began a new term for their four month program at St. Anne’s Woodstock shelter last week. The program aims to inform women of their and their children’s rights, as well as their responsibilities to their children in an informal, friendly setting. Volunteers have been getting to know the women and developing trusting relationships with them.
Last week, Pauline, Dongyon, Angel, Jamie and I met Dene, Luarissa, Ruth, Porcia and Sophie.
Just walking into the teaching room is a visual assault; paper on the very walls that bring security bear witness to their testimonies. ‘Moer’, ‘badly’, ‘bruised’, ‘beaten with pots and pans and belts’ in various handwritings answer ‘How Badly were You Beaten as a Child?’ Further down the writing is smaller,
“Abused with a broom stick or burned with a plastic house pipe or pinched between the legs”
But the next piece of flip-chart paper reads ‘Effective discipline: E –Empathy, C – Content, A – Action’.
The first session can be summered up by what the ladies taught me: ‘laykai’, which means ‘hello’ in one of the Western Cape tribal languages. It is an icebreaker session, where we get to know each other so that our conversation can break down cultural barriers as well as natural shyness.
The second session was exciting for us as volunteers, because the women trusted us enough to tell us their stories. The session identified what constitutes domestic violence and some of its causes. Our rights were discussed as well as possible options in a situation that is very far from black and white. Interestingly, three of the six volunteers who went had experienced domestic violence themselves, uniting us as women, regardless of nationality.
Interns listened to amazing tales of courage and strength in the face of adversity. Many of the women have been subjected to domestic violence by their husbands, parents or step-parents for many years before finding refuge.
Now they are searching for jobs and looking forward to being able to support themselves and their children, where before they had to rely on their oppressors.