Initiative to uplift disadvantaged women is building path to peace and dignity
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by Professor Brian Williams
“You must be your best friend. It is when you truly commit to love and educating yourself that your life as a woman will completely change.”
It was this powerful statement by Dr Karen Dos Reis to a group of women from the Factreton informal settlement, which summarised the necessity for women to educate themselves.
Dr Dos Reis is an inspirational woman and a social entrepreneur who started an I-Commerce Company that has its offices in the Century City complex. She is a leading expert who worked as a Teaching and Learning specialist at the University of the Western Cape, in the Economic Management Sciences Faculty.
She spoke to 36 women from the 18th Avenue, Factreton informal settlement on May 22, 2021, and offered 20 women bursaries for them to complete their matriculation. She was also requested to arrange computer literacy and information communication technology skills training.
The presence of Dr Dos Reis at the informal settlement came about as a result of a Peace Ambassador project by a group of women living there.
Coordinator of the Peace Ambassador Project Team Roeline Stevens welcomed Dr Dos Reis and explained the need for women to become independent and educated.
She said that the opportunity offered by Dr Dos Reis is a blessing and a gift to vulnerable women who are triply disadvantaged.
Ms Stevens, who lives in the settlement, explained that education is an example of “sustainable development where education needs are satisfied without harming the ability of future generations to satisfy their needs”.
I was present at this inspirational meeting and listened to the heartfelt comments of the women. They explained that they were born into circumstances of violence and deprivation. The cycle continued across generations and they wanted to break the spiked chains that trap them and their children in grinding poverty and endemic violence.
Ilona Crouch, the Informal Settlement Community chairperson explained that they did not freely choose to live in a bush in an informal settlement. However, because of extreme overcrowding and unhealthy living conditions as backyard dwellers, they were forced to move there.
Another resident said that for 50 years, the City of Cape Town did not build any new housing for people in Factreton or Kensington. They had two terrible choices: live in chronic unhealthy and dehumanising, overcrowded conditions or move into the bush.
Ms Crouch said that at least now as informal settlement dwellers they are “able to organise themselves to live dignified lives” despite the absence of running water, no electricity, no sanitation services, no refuse removal, no housing support and no services from any government departments”.
On May 19, 2021, councillor Helen Jacobs opened the first Peace Ambassador training for Factreton residents, which was supported by the City of Cape Town and Ivan Anthony.
She praised the programme as “effective in changing the thinking of leaders towards a positive mind set for peace”. She encouraged the participants to “learn about the concepts of peace”.
Advocate Nathan Williams was the lead facilitator who strategically guided everyone successfully through the programme. He was supported by an excellent team: Ms Gadija Gamildien, Ms Agatha Pikoli, Magadien Wentzel, Rusche Petersen and Ms Shannon Lewis.
The Peace training is action oriented and participants are required to create new knowledge. Everyone has an individual project to multiply peace and to implement a group peace impact project.
There are two other Peace Ambassador Project teams in Factreton at this stage and they have different projects. More teams are being created. The invitation to Dr Dos Reis is from a peace project team of women led by Ms Stevens. The Project team of women are: Natasha Cloete, Ilona Crouch, Emmarenthia Hurling, Theresa Isaacs, Antonia Petersen, Beyoncè Crouch, Rochelle Adams and Letitia Marley.
Dr Dos Reis is regarded as a courageous academic and the women have a real champion in her. She resigned from UWC earlier this year and now concentrates on providing education opportunities for people who wish to excel in their studies.
Professor Ricardo Peters, who stepped down as the Director of the School of Business and Finance at UWC, described Dr Dos Reis as a top expert in her field. He said that she has a rare passion for those who were unjustly deprived of education opportunities and that “she made this a mission in her life to create global champions”.
Dr Dos Reis, who grew up on the Cape Flats, told the women that she remembers the times that she had to live through the sounds of gunfire and how traumatic those experiences were. Factreton Peace Ambassadors could relate to her words and committed themselves to combine peace with education, so that the present and the future can be reclaimed for the sake of the children.
* Professor Brian Williams is Visiting Professor in Peace, Mediation and Labour Relations: University of the Sacred Heart, Gulu, Uganda; chief executive: Williams Labour Law and Mediation; Thought Leader Award Recipient for 2018 (Black Management Forum); International Award-winning poet: seven books published.
* This piece from part of the Cape Argus’ “Starfish Project“.