Stepping Stones participants Grassroots Soccer – Phillippi, Cape Town
A group of women in the informal settlement of Phillippi, Cape Town, lived as neighbours but didn’t even know each other’s names. They all went about their daily routines, ignorant of the struggles they shared, until they were brought together in the Woza Asibonisane! Stepping Stones sessions. Nomabhele Mncwengi is one of these women. She has lived in Siyahlala, an informal settlement in Phillipi, for 15 years. She attended Stepping Stones and Parents’ Workshops after a friend invited her. “I decided to attend because I wanted to understand more about HIV. I knew about it but I didn’t understand it properly or know how I could protect myself. I also learned about gender-based violence and the steps to take to protect myself from an abusive partner.” Through listening to other people’s stories, Nomabhele realised that many people were carrying a lot of pain that often showed itself in outbursts of rage because they have not found a way to deal with it. Her husband was one of those people. “My husband had lost both his parents. It affected him and I could see him shutting down or getting angry for no reason. There are many women who are being abused around here and there are men who do very wrong things because of the anger that they are hiding inside.
” It is through discussing their lives and the violence they’ve experienced in the Stepping Stones sessions that the women of Phillippi decided to look out for each other.
Through the support she received from the facilitator and the other participants, Nomabhele decided to confront her husband about his situation. She managed to persuade him to talk about the pain of losing his mother. They started attending counselling sessions together, his temper changed and there was peace in her home. “I feel like I have found a new group of sisters. We didn’t know each other but now we do. There is a bond that has been created among all of us. Sometimes, if you don’t have food to eat, we come together and find ways to help out. We also pray for each other,” says Nomabhele. For other participants in the same group, the journey to dealing with gender-based violence was a rough one. Vathiswa Ndahra says she didn’t know who to turn to, or where to go when her husband would come back home and start swearing and hitting her and their children. “I was scared of reporting him to the police because he supports me financially as I am unemployed,” says Vathiswa. “But after attending Stepping Stones sessions I decided that my life is valuable. I went to the court and got a protection order. The police have also come to talk to him and he has changed his ways because he is scared of going to prison. I learned to stand up for myself. I am grateful to Woza Asibonisane! for coming into our community. Positive things and good programmes of this kind don’t usually come here.” It is through discussing their lives and the violence they’ve experienced in the Stepping Stones sessions that the women of Phillippi decided to look out for each other. If they hear a commotion and one of them is being attacked, they have whistles that they blow. They come to each other’s rescue as a group. They also have created a Whatsapp group to keep in touch with each other and to respond immediately if any on them is faced with a problem. The Woza Asibonisane! programmes have given the women a sense of purpose. They all describe looking forward to the sessions. Since they completed the programme they continued to meet regularly at each other’s homes. And despite coming from different religious and cultural backgrounds, they have found common ground in Woza Asibonisane! “We formed a bond that can never be broken. When we come together, we don’t go back