Ashley Kaimowtz and the roots of Nonceba

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.

Watch Ashley’s Documentary:

#OneReasonImAGlobalFeminist #WomenEmpoweringWomen


Sexual violence in conflict and the use of women as weapons of war

Photo credit: Jan Dago. Published by Alexia Foundation. Internally-displaced civilians during the Sierra Leone civil war.

In modern wars, it is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier on the front line. Women can endure violence, rape and even see their children killed.

In 2008, the United Nations formally declared rape a “weapon of war”, and Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN force commander, spoke of the spread of rape as a war tactic, saying: “It has become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.”

The first order of business in conflict zones is usually to deprive women of education and health services, restricting any kind of participation in economic and political life. However, in recent conflicts, sexual violence statistics have skyrocketed with staggering levels of mass rapes being reported.

Declared over in January 2002, the civil war in Sierra Leone had raged for more than a decade, leaving half of the pre-war population displaced, 50,000 dead, 100,000 mutilated and over a quarter of a million women raped.

In a three-month time period during the 1994 genocide, more than 250,000 women and girls were raped in Rwanda.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo – also known as the rape capital of the world – 48 women were raped every hour during the 2011 conflict, making the statistics almost one woman per minute.

There’s no denying that rape in wartime is an act of violence that targets sexuality. Moreover, militias quickly discovered that the most cost-effective way to terrorise civilian populations is to conduct rapes of mass brutality. The humiliation, pain, and fear inflicted by perpetrators not only dominates and degrades the individual victim, but also her community.  

Christina Lamb, foreign correspondent for The Times, told in a TEDxExeter talk in May 2017 of some of the things she had witnessed when working in the field.

“Over the last year I’ve seen worse things than I’ve ever seen before,” she said.

“In Northern Nigeria three years ago, around 200 girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok and the story made international news for around two weeks. I went there and found out that, actually, more than 1,000 girls had been abducted, unreported. And when I spoke to these girls, they had terrible stories about being gang-raped by Boko Haram fighters and being forced to marry them.

“Some of them had escaped and were in camps but they told me that their own families wouldn’t take them back because they saw them as being sullied or they were worried they’d been indoctrinated. In fact, one of them – a little girl – had been so badly raped that she couldn’t walk. She shuffled like a crab.”

Modern wars are increasingly characterised by these barbaric acts of sexual violence to terrorise populations and destroy communities.

“And then there was the Yazidi girls. 5,000 of them abducted by ISIS and sold for less than the price of a cigarette packet. I spoke to one of them who had been released and she told me that the worst night of her life was when her captor – a fat judge – brought back a 10-year-old girl and raped her in the room next door to her, as she cried for her mother all night”, said Christina Lamb.

ISIS continues to unleash violence that disproportionately targets women and girls as young as three and the victims are often enslaved, sexually abused and traded like chattel in the human trafficking underworld where their payment is then used to fund the war and further terrorist attacks.

Even after conflict has ended, the impacts of sexual violence persist, with unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and stigmatisation rife in post-war communities. Widespread sexual violence itself may continue or even increase in the aftermath of conflict and meeting the needs of survivors — including medical care, HIV treatment, psychological support, economic assistance and legal redress – often requires resources that most post-conflict countries do not have.

So, what can we do to help?

Advancing women’s rights and empowerment is vital in addressing the needs of female survivors worldwide. Not only do we need to raise awareness of atrocities against women and girls, but we also need to fight for justice and reforms in policy and foreign diplomacy.

We must work to remove the stigma around sexual violence, help women and girls tell their stories and create and help existing support systems for survivors. The Circle strives to achieve all of these.

By supporting projects worldwide, The Circle works with women who have experienced sexual violence in projects such as the Nonceba Women’s Shelter, those fighting domestic violence in India and the courageous female journalists of the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network, who give a voice to the incredible – and undoubtedly brave – survivors of conflict from around the world.

 

 

 

 

Written by @shanhodge.
Shannon is a Journalism graduate and a volunteer at The Circle.