SEED Community: GirlZTalk

Our journey into the rural heartland of Limpopo, South Africa continues to resonate in our organization. During the past few months we have continued to make new connections with girls across South Africa, sharing our stories, the issues faced and ways to overcome them.

Together with EV1 we have launched a GirlZtalk feature on the social media network Mxit.  Through their beSmart platform, GirlZTalk is an information and exchange platform for teenage girls around the world. Each week we are able to connect with girls across South Africa via mobile phone, discussing issues that matter and enabling them to take part in the conversation.

Our aim is simple. We want every girl and young woman in South Africa to have a safe space where they can break the silence.

Girls in South Africa should be free to be themselves without fear of judgement. Our work reveals that the statistics yield a very honest and stark reality. The untold story, the silence and scorn passed on from one generation to the next has produced fertile ground for violation and ignorance to continue to flourish. It is not women alone who can change the status quo. Men need to be a part of the discussion, to share their reality and the silences that have bound them to the cycle of violence from generation to generation. We invite male youth to also participate in discussions.

As Madiba (Nelson Mandela) once said, ¨For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” We need to continue to share our stories. It is our stories that bind and shape our humanity, providing the opportunity for understanding, reconciliation and forgiveness to take place.

For there to be change we need to listen.

Amidst despair there is the pure and unified voice of resilience, courage and hope. The young women of South Africa today are the granddaughters, and daughters of those women and men who fought for their freedom. It is with the same dignity, grace and determination the girls of today will continue to rise, to pursue their dreams of a brighter future.

And the future looks bright, for the greatest resource South Africa holds, is her people.

Want to connect with other girls across South Africa?

Check out www.girlztalk.co.za also on Facebook and Twitter

Watch the sneak preview of GirlZTalk

In the field with SEED Community

This is the last in a series of posts written by the SEED community chronicling their journey into the rural heartland of Limpopo, South Africa with 25 girls who are a part of the SEED program. The trip was a part of the urban/rural exchange filmed to capture the voice of young women of South Africa. The journey was documented through journal entries by SEED staff which have been published on Girls’ Globe over the past 5 weeks.

SEED2Day 8

We start early, as this afternoon the girls will be putting on their show. They get straight into their groups and continue to practice their performances. Our girls are nervous as they still feel a resistance from a number of the girls.

As 3 o’ clock draws near, the excitement of the performance seems to stir, even in the quietest of the girls. The groups come together and one by one give expression to the themes they have chosen. One girl stands to read her poem, her voice gaining force as the words resound throughout the room. She throws her paper aside and continues to repeat, ‘I will be heard; I will be heard’ almost with a preachers determination. The girls are noticeably moved and the rest of the performances bring forth a collective energy and spirit, leaving behind the fear that had upheld their silence.

‘I will be heard; I will be heard’

It is our last evening and we gather the SEED girls for an evening bonfire and barbecue. Sitting around the fire we all give our individual thoughts on the past eight days. This trip has not been without its challenges and everyone has been stretched emotionally, physically and mentally. For some, the different foods, and ways of living of their host families proved the greatest challenge. For others the barrier of language and lack of co-operation from some of the rural girls, posed the greatest frustration. However there is a collective feeling that the work holds enormous value and is not only needed in the rural communities but also in the townships.

Day 9

We are all packed and ready to go. There is one last interview with a girl called Johanna. She came forward yesterday to say she would like to tell her story. Johanna is 17 and holds her daughter of 2 years in her arms. She has a message to tell teenage girls who find themselves pregnant. She says, ‘Do not give up; stay at school; work hard and look forward to fulfilling your goals.’ She has 2 more years of school and as she preaches to those girls younger than her, one senses she is also preaching to herself, never to give up.

Our trip has come to an end but this is really just the beginning. Over the past eight days so many girls have come forward to share their stories, stories that not even their parents know about. These stories must be met, not only with a listening ear but also with the knowledge that we have a responsibility to provide a space for girls to continue to find support and acknowledgement. This is the task that lies before us.

 

In the field with SEED community

This is the fourth in a series of posts written by the SEED community chronicling their journey into the rural heartland of Limpopo, South Africa with 25 girls who are a part of the SEED program. The trip was a part of the urban/rural exchange filmed to capture the voice of young women of South Africa. The journey was documented through journal entries by SEED staff and each week Girls’ Globe is publishing a new entry. 

Day 6:

We all arrive at 8am and by 8:30 we have about 85 girls registered. There are girls from 3 villages all with a good grasp of English. Our girls are excited as they feel this is going to make it much easier to connect and have a meaningful 3 days. We start with ice-breakers and the game, ‘have you ever?’. They leave the more innocent questions behind and go straight to ‘Have you ever been to a tavern?’ and ‘Have you ever kissed a girl?’. As half the girls rise, we are surprised by their apparent openness.

By mid-morning the issues are being raised but our girls appear to be struggling. In contrast to their vocal participation in the games, there seems to be a general silence amongst the local girls. Those who speak up are laughed at by the other members of the group; making it very difficult to have an open discussion. It is going to take time to build trust and the confidence to exchange the challenges girls are facing.

Our team persists and working with the more vocal girls, manage to bring out the main issues. Once again teenage pregnancies, rape, substance abuse are high on the list. Interestingly witchcraft, peer pressure and jealousy are themes that run deep and are considered to be the cause for a girl failing at school and for being tempted into substance abuse. We realise there is a general fear to succeed, for to stand out puts you at the risk of a Witches spell or the mirth of your peers.

By 4pm transport arrives to take the girls back to their villages. It has been a challenging day and we all head back to our host families with an element of uncertainty as to whether the girls in the community are keen to exchange.

SEED

 Day 7:

A beautiful day dawns and by 9am we are gathered in the community hall. They divide up into the groups to explore the themes they have selected. There are teenage pregnancies, substance abuse, prostitution and sugar daddies and rape; as well as lack of resources, witchcraft and jealousy as excuses for failure. HIV is not mentioned although it is known to be rife in the community. There are girls in each group who are determined to express their opinions despite the laughter of some of their friends. Discussions open up and it becomes clear that sexuality is also a pressing issue for girls.

We spend the early afternoon with 6 girls in a very frank interview about lesbianism, bi-sexuality and how this has been met by the rest of the community. The girls are very confident about their sexuality despite the growing pressures they face. A few of the girls come from very religious backgrounds and have had to confront their own beliefs with their feelings, as homosexuality is not well respected by their communities. Among the township girls they are very aware that correctional rape is on the increase. They no longer feel safe to walk the streets for fear of attack.

As the afternoon draws to a close we head off with the crew to watch the sunset from a beautiful boulder perched at the top of a hill beside a granite mine. The vast expanse of the countryside opens before us. It is quiet aside from the distant sounds of children playing and the unmistakable beats of African music from the village nearby.

In the Field with the SEED Community

This is the third in a series of posts written by the SEED community chronicling their journey into the rural heartland of Limpopo, South Africa with 25 girls who are a part of the SEED program. The trip was a part of the urban/rural exchange filmed to capture the voice of young women of South Africa. The journey was documented through journal entries by SEED staff and each Friday for 5 weeks Girls’ Globe is publishing a new entry. 

Day 5

Photo Courtesy of the SEED Community
Photo Courtesy of the SEED Community

Show time! Amidst the ululating of the community we find ourselves prostrate on the floor in honour to the chief. The performances are extraordinary. Song and dance are a platform for African women to share her voice. Their power captivates and intoxicates one’s senses. Dressed in traditional venda dress, their feet pound the earth, their voices carrying the melody of the untold stories that lie within. The issues of teenage pregnancies, rape, education and substance abuse are brought to life through short plays, poems and songs created and performed by each group. They do not hold back giving a raw portrayal of how these issues affect them. As the show draws to a close, the heavens open and once more we are offered the blessing of rain.

We have all felt a strong bond to this community. We have been embraced by their warmth, honesty, trust and enthusiasm. It has been an intense 4 days and there is a collective feeling that we have planted the seeds for strong friendships. Everyone has given a 110% and with a certain sadness we board the buses to head south.

With a late departure our arrival into Leyden was delayed. The lush vegetation of the north has given way to flat grassy plains broken by rocky mountains. We arrived long after night fall, everyone hungry, exhausted and in need of a good nights sleep. We are met by some local girls who had been practicing a dance they wanted to perform for us. They all seem to speak English and we are hopeful the next days are going to be a lot of fun. We dropped the girls to their host families and agreed to meet first thing in the morning.

In the Field with the SEED Community

This is the second in  a series of posts written by the SEED community chronicling their journey into the rural heartland of Limpopo, South Africa with 25 girls who are a part of the SEED program. The trip was a part of the urban/rural exchange filmed to capture the voice of young women of South Africa. The journey was documented through journal entries by SEED staff and each Friday for 5 weeks Girls’ Globe will publish a new entry. Read the first post in the series here.

SEED 2

Day  3:

The heavens have opened! The rain is torrential, another blessing in the eyes of the Venda people. We are not so sure and arrive at the hall with the uncertainty of who will come back today. Slowly as the rain dissipates, the hall fills once more, the girls are chatty and eager to begin. Song fills the room, girls break into traditional dance, the atmosphere is electric. Music is their redemption and takes on a power that touches the soul.

As the group discussions get under way, the local girls seem to have found their voice and the individual stories of rape, abuse, teenage pregnancies abound. The room pervades an overwhelming sadness and at the same time there is a certain relief as the stories have been met with such open understanding. So many of the girls share similar stories they are able to unite in their sadness and provide each other with the security, they are not alone.

 Our interviews are an intimate reflection of the mood inside the hall. Despite the enormous challenges girls face, the silence they have been encouraged to keep for the reputation of their families; they continue to hold their heads high, as they feel with God’s grace, this is the life they were meant to lead.

It has been a long day and we all go home to our families, deeply grateful to be here together.

Day 4:

The day begins early and the girls are all keen to get into their discussions. Today each group will spend time giving expression to the topics they have been discussing. The sun has returned, everyone moves outside and once more song fills the air from all corners of the playground.

We will be spending most of our time interviewing both girls from SEED and from the local community. They have decided to come forward to share their story and for some of the girls, it will be for the first time. As the stories unfold we are left speechless at the unforgiving intensity of these girls lives. Rape, violence, and teenage pregnancies are a common thread woven into each of their lives. But faith, courage and hope are also deeply woven into their tapestry and every girl considers their life to hold possibilities to fulfil their goals. They are able to share their stories for they are no longer bound by them, rather they belong to their history and they will not allow them to determine their future. These are the voices that need to be heard, for despite the enormous challenges these young women have faced, they have such strength, wisdom and determination to make their world a better place, not only for themselves but also for their children.

What does it mean to be a girl growing up in South Africa today?

This week begins a series of posts written by the SEED community chronicling their journey into the rural heartland of Limpopo, South Africa with 25 girls who are a part of the SEED program. The trip was a part of the urban/rural exchange filmed to capture the voice of young women of South Africa. The journey was documented through journal entries by SEED staff and each Friday for the next 8 weeks will Girls’ Globe will publish a new entry. 

Day 1:

Saturday morning 7:30 am and the inner city of Johannesburg seems to exhale. There is a calm and certain grace the streets behold as if some time long ago, she was destined for a brighter future. We are quiet until we see the vans, the girls arriving, greeting each other with open arms.

Anticipation turns to excitement. The vans are decorated, packed to the brim, and everyone gathers for a prayer and so the GirlZtalk bus tour officially begins.  We are 20 SEED girls, 5 facilitators and 3 film crew. We will be spending the next 8 days with girls from 2 villages in the rural heartland of Limpopo province. GirlZtalk is about engaging the voice of girls across South Africa. It is about creating a space where girls can talk, share their stories and raise the issues they are facing today. It is about finding ways to overcome these challenges and above all else it is about, listening.

The vans set off with music blaring. A 700km journey before us. We are heading north to Ha-Makhueha, a small village close to the Zimbabwean border. After 6 hours on the road, the open plains give way to lush orchards of litchee and mango trees. The richness of the earth is honoured by a landscape of intense shades of green and an abundance of food crops sprawling onto the road side.

It is late afternoon by the time we arrive and we are greeted by our local co-ordinator Moshudu,a headman of the traditional council. Ladies soon gather to pick up our girls and in small groups we head off to our new homes for the next 4 days.  We are all looking forward to tomorrow when we will be meeting the girls of the community.

Photo courtesy of SEED Community
Photo courtesy of SEED Community

Day 2:

By 8:30 we meet in the hall belonging to the local primary school. Groups of girls gather at the entrance and once assembled we realise we have more than 100.

The village chief, Khosi Makudu arrives with his headmen and offers his blessing for the next days. When his name is mentioned, there is loud ululating from the audience and everyone lies prostrate on the floor,hands clasped together above our heads. After doing this 14 times in the space of an hour, our GirlZtalk workshop is officially blessed, the chief leaves and we begin.

The village girls are shy but eager to participate and so the morning is spent playing games, singing and just getting to know each other. We have 4 women preparing the lunch over wood fires at the back of the school. They have been there since 5am preparing the fire for the enormous pots of pap (a traditional maize meal), chicken and vegetables. They sit under the trees peeling and chatting and laughing at us as we attempt to stir the pap as it bubbles on the fire.

After lunch our group diminishes in size as girls disappear in small groups  through the school gates. We are soon told that in one village, girls were told we are here to offer bursaries and catering training. Realising that this was not the case, they were not going to hang around! Somewhat baffled, we continue with a group of about 60.

We spend the afternoon in groups identifying the main challenges girls feel they are facing. Posts go up on the walls. Teenage pregnancies, education, rape, substance abuse, are the main issues. Crime, lack of resources, human trafficking, and HIV are not far behind.  The next 2 days will be spent exploring those issues in more depth with a show planned for the last day.

As the village girls leave, we gather as a group. It is an emotional discussion as the girls, who are mainly from the townships of Johannesburg, speak of the generosity of their hosts, how humble and welcoming the community is. As much as this is a journey to discover the voice of girls of South Africa, it is also a personal journey of self discovery for all of us.