Tag Archives: South Africa

Women Helping Women in Johannesburg’s Townships

This post was originally published on Impatient Optimists.

I met Jabulile Tlhabane, 57, in a small woman-owned restaurant on a busy road in Alexandra Township located about 60 minutes outside Johannesburg depending on the time of day and traffic. Alexandra, or Alex as the locals call it, is home to over a million people even though its resident capacity is intended to be capped at 100,000. That means stresses are rife on Alexandra’s overcrowded citizens from a lack of adequate health facilities, increasing teenage pregnancies, largely unreported violence against women, drug abuse, and a general absence of jobs and opportunities. Tlhabane is a longtime member of Rebecca’s Well, a small nonprofit that provides help and healing for women and girls in need as well as microfinance and enterprising skills. I met with Tlhabane to learn more about their work. Rebecca’s Well was started by a Boston woman, Sheila Wise Rowe, who now calls South Africa home with her family.

Tlhabane first joined Rebecca’s Well over a decade ago after her husband abruptly left her and her children. “When I first met Sheila at my local church, she advised me to go for healing,” Tlhabane remembers from those difficult early years after her marriage dissolved. “It took me years to get completely healed. I think I spent the first six to seven years crying. I was married to my schoolmate. We were married for twenty-six years and we had six children.”

It’s stories like Tlhabane’s that made Wise Rowe dedicate her life to helping women in Johannesburg area townships including both Alexandra and Soweto who need encouragement and renewed hope to ease towards self-sufficiency.

Tlhabane is now the director of Rebecca’s Well’s Soweto program where there are both initiatives for women and teens. “The problem is unemployment and women who do not pursue their education,” said Tlhabane about Rebecca’s Well’s work in the biggest township in South Africa. “That is very challenging. People fall pregnant. Those are the things that challenge us.”

But there are success stories. Tlhabane told me about a member of Rebecca’s Well who was at one time homeless without any options, but through assistance from Rebecca’s Well now has a stable job, attends school, and was able to recently purchase her own car.

Regina Morutu is another success story. She has been a member of Rebecca’s Well since 2009. A young mother of a five-year-old and Soweto resident, Morutu graduated with a B.A. in psychology last year and dreams of getting her masters in forensic psychology. “I came to Rebecca’s Well because I had school problems,” she said. “I dropped out of school because my father passed away and my mother couldn’t afford my school fees, so I took a break.”

Rebecca’s Well helped Morutu get back into school and helped her with school fees as well as with transport costs. “I spend a grand (South African rands) on transport each month and I still have to eat,” Morutu said. “Yes, it is expensive.”

“When people hear about Rebecca’s Well they think it will be a quick fix,” Morutu added. “Some people don’t have the patience to wait and endure. I think their mental state needs to change.”

While Rebecca’s Well isn’t a large scale nonprofit its presence is being felt by women and girls who have little options especially those who become pregnant and need help staying in school and matriculating into college or women who need new skills to earn their own money.

“If it wasn’t for Rebecca’s Well I’d still be at home looking at life in the hood,” said Morutu. “Now I have direction.”

Learn more about Rebecca’s Well’s work at rebeccaswell.org

[Photos] Honoring Women and Girls We’ve Met Around the World

Today on International Women’s Day we honor all of the women and girls we’ve met throughout our travels! Want to celebrate International Women’s Day in an impactful way? Read 4 Easy, But Impactful Ways to Celebrate International Women’s Day.









[Photos] Communal Toilets + New Study About Women, Girls and Sanitation

Yesterday World Toilet Day was recognized to bring global awareness about the millions of people worldwide who do not have access to a toilet. In fact, 40% of the world’s population has to use the bathroom in the open and spends billions of hours searching for a place to relieve themselves.

WaterAid, along with the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council recently published a new report, We can’t wait, that shows the effects of low sanitation and hygiene on women and girls. According to the report women and girls are exposed to harrasement, shame, disease, and attacks when they need to use the bathroom. That is what I also heard from a visit to communal toilets (photos below) in New Delhi and Johannesburg. For women and girls going to the bathroom is a harrowing experience.

“One in three [people] lack access to adequate sanitation,” noted UN Deputy-Secretary General, Jan Eliasson and Unilever Chief Executive Officer, Paul Polman in the report. “The result is widespread death and disease and social marginalization. Poor sanitation exposes women and girls to the risk of assault and, when schools cannot provide clean, safe toilets, girls’ attendance drops.”

Communal Toilet in a Slum in New Delhi










Communal Toilets in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, South Africa





[Photos] Family Planning Kits from Ethiopia, Zambia, South Africa

I have been fortunate to visit health posts and family planning clinics in a handful of countries. One of the things I always ask to see while visiting are family planning kits used for educational purposes for clients. Some of the kits have been fancy, others have been fairly rudimentary, but they all serve the same purpose: educating women about their options to space or prevent pregnancies.

Below are a few photos of family planning kits I have seen in Ethiopia, Zambia and South Africa. You can also check out a Marie Stopes clinic I visited this summer.

Family Planning - Ethiopia
Family Planning Kit – Ethiopia
Family Planning Kit
Family Planning Kit – Johannesburg, South Africa
Family Planning Kit - Zambia
Family Planning Kit – Lusaka, Zambia

And even though this isn’t  a family planning kit I loved seeing young teenage girls at the Fountain of Hope community center for street affected kids reminding each other about peer pressure, STIs, and pregnancy.

Fountain of Hope


Be sure to follow the following hashtags during this week’s International Conference on Family Planning: #FP2020,  #FullAccess#FamilyPlanning, and #ICFP2013.

[Photos] A Week in Johannesburg

They say you’ve never been to Soweto if you haven’t seen the Orlando Towers that can be viewed from all corners of the massive urban neighborhood filled with over fifty townships in Johannesburg. The Orlando Towers are a symbol of racial discrimination that was systemic until the fall of apartheid in the early 1990s. The coal towers powered the white area of Johannesburg in the 1950s and the townships remained without electricity until the 1980s. That systematic discrimination colors the disparities that are felt even still throughout Jozi, as many of the locals call it. HIV/AIDS rates are highest among the black population. Teenage pregnancy, poverty, rape, and unemployment are rife, especially in the townships. Despite these poverty indicators, there is an emerging black middle class in South Africa that can also be felt as you make your way through the city and even out in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. Things are indeed getting better despite the decades of racism and classism.

I was in South Africa on the Social Good Moms’ second insight trip of year. I visited Africa’s southernmost country for a week with Global Team of 200 Member and Social Good Mom, Elizabeth Atalay. Early during our visit we got an overview of the city and then later in the week we met with Rebecca’s Well, a women’s collective with programs in both the Soweto and Alexandra townships, met with ONE.org in their Johannesburg office and also met with Marie Stopes and visited their Gandhi Square office in Johannesburg.

Next week I will share in-depth stories about our visits. In the meantime – here are a few photos from our time in South Africa.

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