Legacy of a rose among thorns

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iol pic sa ss Centre Leigh Matthews2

Independent Newspapers

The Leigh Matthews Stress and Trauma Centre in the former Raucall Secondary School, now the UJ Metropolitan Academy in Brixton. Picture: Paballo Thekiso

Johannesburg - Like the soft pink-rose logo used at a centre named after her - this is how Leigh Matthews was described.

Firmly tucked away on the premises of the UJ Metropolitan College in Crosby, Brixton, the Leigh Matthews Stress and Trauma Centre (LMSTC) is one of the areas where Matthews’s character traits and her legacy still linger.

She was abducted in 2004 outside Bond University in Morningside, near Sandton, by fellow student Donavan Moodley, and murdered. Moodley is serving a life sentence.

“Leigh really liked roses and its amazing how things fall into place… It (the rose logo) is soft, it has character and the beauty in the flower comes out of some thorny issue, if you think about the stem at the end of the rose - that’s the background to it,” said the slain student’s father, Rob Matthews, who is a patron of the centre with his wife, Sharon, and daughter Karen.

He said the late chairman of the trust had a relationship with Ludwig Roses which, in 2006, named a rose after Leigh. Matthews says this process seemed like the right thing to do - to use the flower as a symbol for a trauma centre.

For the past nine years, the facility has left an indelible mark on those it has assisted, lending a hand, a shoulder, to cry on, and hope to individuals who need them the most.

It sees 15 people a week and has a strong support system of education psychology students from the University of Johannesburg, and teachers who do their community service work at the centre and assist to the best of their ability.

Hardly with the financial means to advertise, the facility has grown in leaps and bounds through one tried and trusted method - word of mouth.

The story of one daring and yet desperate woman is etched in Rob’s heart. He recalls how the young woman was raped. In spite of her traumatic experience, she boarded four taxis to the centre, hoping to get help. She had learnt about the centre through someone else.

“I don’t know how she knew where we were or knew about us to get here and deal with her problems. She had just been raped. And I just cannot believe that as a community, this happens around us and that someone has to go through that amount of effort to find some help. It’s sad, really sad,” said Rob, adding that the centre did not turn anyone away,l regardless of religion, race or socio-economic status.

“We didn’t find the school, the school found us, and the principal, Marietta Westerberg, has been phenomenal to us,” said Rob.

He said it was through the initial investigating officer, Inspector Gabrielle Hall, that the Matthews family were introduced to the school.

Hall’s partner, Tanya, worked at the University of Johannesburg’s department for transformation at the time. When the Matthewses decided that they wanted to plough back into the community (for having helped them), Tanya approached them and asked if they wanted to do something at Raucall Secondary (as the school was previously known).

Today, he says, it has all fallen into place thanks to the dedication of people such as Marie Ringel, the centre’s manager, and her team, which includes the centre’s administrator, Konrad Saayman, who handle the daily operations.

The centre, however, only just survives financially. Ringel says it is difficult.

“We sometimes get donations, and have professional people come and see them. Occasionally, someone gives us R1 000 while some donate small amounts such as R50,” she said.

But with a myriad success stories, the team has one wish for the centre - to keep its amazing reputation.

“Sometimes people are just lonely and they come to the centre just to be heard. So we just listen,” said Ringel.

- Saturday Star

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