U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, Mr. Patrick Gaspard visited Tshwane Home of Hope yesterday, a shelter managed by a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Mandela Washington Fellow 2014 Alumnus that accommodates young girls who have been victims of sexual assault, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, abuse and destitution.
Tshwane Home of Hope is situated in Sunnyside, Pretoria. The home was launched on 13 September 2002 during Child Protection Week by the Minister of Social Development and by the Mayor of the City of Tshwane as a joint initiative to combat sexual exploitation and forced prostitution and to protect young girls on the street.
It is a non-profit organization that provides holistic services which includes residential care, education and skills development, early intervention, therapy and counseling, community outreaches and income generating programs. The organization ensures that the needs of these girls are met through these programs.
Pretty Arojojoye, part of the inaugural cohort of YALI Mandela Washington Fellows who went to the US last year, started working at the Centre when she was 19 years old. She said she has always had a passion for helping other people, especially those is dire need. She mentioned that it all started when she saw young teenage girls who had been abused physically, and those who ran away from their families because of abuse, and it committed her to work with young girls.
Last June and July she spent six weeks at the University of Virginia studying civic leadership with 24 other young African leaders. At the end of her studies, she travelled to Washington, DC, where she attended a town hall meeting hosted by President Obama and had the opportunity to meet First Lady Michelle Obama. She was also selected to remain in the US for an extra two months, which she spent in Atlanta completing an internship. Pretty says participating in YALI was the best thing that has ever happened in her life.
While in Atlanta, she interned for Refugee Family Services and learnt a lot about the experience of refugees in the US. “In South Africa, we are bit behind on how to handle and assist refugees, but in the United States they have systems in place on how refugees are best taken care of. I intend to impart that knowledge to the sisters who we run this shelter with,” she said.
Ambassador Gaspard wanted to know how Pretty intends to keep the shelter afloat since it depends entirely on donations. Pretty was quick to mention that she learned in the US about socio entrepreneurship. She thought of teaching the girls at the shelter marketable skills, making bags using beads. “I had never thought of it before, but when I came back from the US it hit me that the shelter can make money through making bags, and the proceeds will help, in the running of the shelter. Some of the profit would be used as pocket money for the girls at the shelter as they have no one who gives them pocket money”.
Ambassador Gaspard said he was delighted that President Obama’s dream, as well as the First Lady’s dream, had become a reality. “When the First Lady came to South Africa, she spoke at Regina Mundi for almost an hour encouraging young women to take charge of their lives, irrespective of their situations and make the best out of themselves”. He also mentioned that when President Obama launched the Mandela Washington Fellowship, his intention was to make dreams for young African people a reality.
Mr Gaspard spent almost an hour with 12 of the girls at the center asking each one of them what they intended to do in their future. Some said they wanted to be writers and pilots, while another wanted to be a teacher. He encouraged them to finish school and after that the sky would be the limit. They posed questions to him as well, as to how he became an Ambassador and how many places he had travelled. “I have travelled to 48 of the 50 states in America. I don’t know how I have been able to do that, but I have done it, so you can do it as well.”
Success story of the Shelter
Over the past 12 years Tshwane House of Hope has created a safer haven for 4 365 girls in crisis irrespective of their race, culture, nationality, background, religion and situation. Even with limited resources Tshwane House of Hope managed to help more than 20 girls to receive tertiary education and today these girls are raising their own families. All the 11 girls that are currently residing at the home have access to primary and secondary education.
Virginia Moswakgotlha (22) has lived at Tshwane Home of Hope for a decade. She says she went to the shelter when she was 12. Her father committed suicide in 2001, and a year later her mother died of breast cancer. “When I came to the shelter, I never knew that I was pregnant, but the sisters here supported me and I never at any stage felt neglected”, she said.
Virginia now is a year away from graduating for her Fine Arts Degree at UNISA, majoring in Languages. She speaks French fluently, and believes that even girls who have grown up in centres can be somebody in the world.