Photo: Ashley Kaimowtz at Nonceba.
On the International Day of the Girl, I’d like to commemorate a very special young woman called Ashley Kaimowitz.
A beautiful black and white photograph hangs in Nonceba’s entrance hall, made by local craftswomen in honour of an exceptional teenage girl called Ashley Kaimowitz.
In order to fully understand how the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre came into being, it’s important to know Ashley’s story.
In high school, Ashley was an active member of Rotary Interact —Rotary International’s service club for 12-18 year olds.
At the age of 16, she became secretary of her school’s chapter of the club, and she planned a trip to visit Nonceba with her executive committee in the township of Khayelitsha, where 1 in 3 children suffer serious sexual abuse by the age of 18.
Nonceba was originally founded in 2002 by a local resident called Nocawe Mankayi, who had become deeply distressed by how commonplace child rape was in the township, and how little support was available for victims. Nocawe offered children shelter in her own small brick house, feeding them with her meagre income. She dreamed of creating a larger, professionally-equipped, 24/7 safe haven for victims of sexual abuse. Nonceba received no assistance from the government and was being maintained solely by volunteers.
On her visit with Interact, Ashley met a little 4-year old girl who had been raped by her father the night before. Holding the child in her arms, Ashley was overcome with emotion. She felt destined to help manifest Nocawe’s vision —an idea to which she was about to wholeheartedly dedicate herself.
A high achiever, Ashley had long been passionate about filmmaking, something she planned to pursue as a career in the future. While she had never made a film, she conjectured that a documentary about rape in South Africa’s townships would be the perfect fundraising tool for Nonceba’s new centre.
Despite her inexperience, she resolved to script, direct, and produce her own film, underscoring the subject. She told her parents, “If I can’t bring the World to Khayelitsha, then I’m going to take Khayelitsha to the World!”.
In between school and her extracurricular activities, Ashley reached out to family members in the U.S. to help her fund the film, as she knew the dollar would go a long way in her native country. Her grandparents put her in touch with the Board of Directors at Rutgers University, where a couple named Jerry and Lorraine Aresty admired Ashley’s tenacity and idea so much that they offered to sponsor her project with a cheque for $1,000.
When a small film company in Cape Town learned of Ashley’s plan, they lent her all of the necessary film equipment, trained her in its application, and linked her to an editing company and film studio (both of which agreed to help with the documentary for free).
Ashley and a few friends spent their entire winter break filming in Khayelitsha alongside Nocawe.
In September of 2002, after months of steadfast effort on the documentary, “Uthando Labatwana — For the Love of Our Children” celebrated its premiere screening at Ashley’s high school. Her work received a standing ovation, but Ashley had no intentions of stopping there.
Schools in the area began showing Ashley’s documentary, and more individuals and organizations stepped forward with donations for Nonceba.
In 2004, after completing high school, Ashley moved to Japan for a year as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student Ambassador. Despite being far from home, her devotion to Nonceba never wavered. She continued campaigning for the cause by orchestrating film screenings in Japanese venues.
Soon, a professional film studio there offered to subtitle the film so that it would reach a broader audience. It was shown on national television and at film festivals across the country, and the Japanese population was startled into action by the content of Ashley’s work.
It wasn’t long before an entire organization was founded in Kyoto to create awareness about child rape, and raise additional funds for Nonceba.
When Ashley returned home, she set her sights on attending university in Australia, where she had arranged to study filmmaking.
While in the final stages of planning her move, she was tragically killed when a drunk driver hit her car.
Six months after Ashley’s death, Carte Blanche (a South African program similar to 60 Minutes) broadcast her story, and support poured in from people all over the country who were inspired by Ashley’s courage, empathy, and actions —virtues that were even more remarkable given her young age.
As a result of that segment, millions of South African rand were raised for Nonceba’s new centre, and a construction team was assembled.
In 2008, three years after Ashley’s death, Nocawe was able to open the doors of the new Nonceba. This location, unlike its predecessor, is equipped with medical facilities, a counselling clinic, a safe house for children and abused women’s shelter able to accommodate 45 women and children, a community hall, training facilities, multiple offices for doctors, lawyers, social workers and psychologists, an ample playground, and much more. The centre is open all day every day, with live-in staff and an entire team trained in crisis response.
While Ashley isn’t here to witness the fruits of her labour, the centre is dedicated to her memory and the relentless support of Nocawe’s mission.
Thanks to an extraordinary teenager who lost her life far too soon, there is a safe haven of hope in Kahyelitsha.
I’m so proud that The Circle is helping to support Ashley and Nocawe’s dream.
To find out more about the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre and donate, click here.