Inspiring stories, inspiring women

Ayanda Cokoto, 28, says she has found more joy in her community activism than her nine-to-five job as a Human Resource practitioner.

Her mother moved the family out of Khayelitsha in the mid-1990s, “when crime got a bit too much”.

Unusual for the time, Ayanda’s mother who is a nurse, bought a house in the traditional Afrikaans neighbourhood of Kraaifontein located in Cape Town’s northern suburbs.

On an overcast Saturday Ayanda finds herself on the Cape Flats, specifically the Lavender Hill neighbourhood, to encourage women tell their own stories of strength through adversity.

Their host for the day is Lucinda Evans who started an NGO, Philisa Abafazi Bethu (Heal Our Women), which works mostly in the impoverished Lavender Hill and surrounding informal settlements.

Woman Zone, the organisation with which Ayanda is involved, was being hosted by Philisa Abafazi Bethu, while the day’s events were documented by acclaimed radio host Nancy Richards.

Women from the community, along with those who work there, and some visiting for the day were treated to inspirational stories, songs and laughter while acknowledging that a lot of work was required to empower women.

Evans, a former trade unionist, says her move to start Phila Abafazi Bethu was motivated by angry feelings she had for her former boss. Listening to other women’s stories helped her to get over her anger.

In a small bungalow, at the back of her house, Evans and her volunteers run motivational workshops for the area’s children and women.

Ayanda says her community activism was prompted by her own experiences after finishing matric.

“I finished matric in 2003, the very next day I was in my first job while there are other kids who were struggling,” says Ayanda.

She then went on to do a learnership, and even after that experience she still was unclear about her future plans.

“There was no one to tell me, if you want to be a psychologist ‘this is how you go about it’. I was just drifting on and then in 2006 I decided to study tourism …I love being with people, I love to talk and this seemed like the right space [for me],” says Ayanda.

After her first year of study, she owed the university R23 000 along with the costs of accommodation.

“My mother said no, ‘I’m not going through this again, either make another plan, or study nursing’. She had been a nurse for around 30 years, and told me there was no other profession which would suit me,” says Ayanda.

Her mother insisted on nursing, but also gave her the option of studying human resources. Ayanda chose the latter.

Ayanda says: “I didn’t know what it was, I went to apply and I was accepted but my Head of Department wanted to know why I had left tourism because I was getting distinctions. I did HR for the first year and realised that it’s not too bad, I could apply it across the board.”

For the next few years, she would struggle to pay her school fees. And her mother had to take out personal loans to pay off Ayanda’s student debt.

“I wouldn’t like other youngsters to struggle the way in which I struggled,” says Ayanda.

She has started career expos, targeting specifically township youngsters, by exposing them to opportunities in the tertiary and job market.

Ayanda and her partners at Woman Zone host a series of monthly inspirational talks under the banner of The 13 Series about being a woman in Cape Town. 

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