This week i received the gift of a visit to the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children.

Thanks to some work i have done alongside Fair Cape Dairies, they informed me of a collaboration they are launching next week with the centre. i connected with the director Bernadine Bachar and she agreed to meet with me to give me an idea of what the centre is about and how they do what they do.

The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children (SBCWC ) is a one-stop centre for women and children who are survivors of abuse. Our vision is the creation of a safe and secure society and a human rights culture where women and children are empowered to exercise their full rights.

Why Saartjie Baartman?

The name itself already speaks volumes. Especially in a year that has had such a focus on gender-based violence towards women in South Africa.

For those who might not be in the know, Sara Baartman [called Saartjie, which is the diminutive form, which in itself is perhaps a part of the violence] was a woman from South Africa who was taken to England and basically used as an exhibit for a number of years. In shows and country fairs, as a khoikhoi woman, she was considered an anthropological freak and was exhibited for the amusement of the crowds. She was dubbed ‘The Hottentot Venus’ and displayed as a sexual curiosity and was also experimented on to provide some kind of proof of a missing link connection between animals and humans. After her death in 1816, her remains were displayed in a museum in Paris [the Musee de l’Homme] until as recently as 1985.

Eventually, after years of negotiation, the South African government along with the Griqua National Council were finally able to bring Saartjie Baartman back to South Africa. In 2002, on the 3rd of May, a moving ceremony was held in which she was welcomed back to Cape Town and finally laid to rest in the Eastern Cape where she was born.

By naming our centre after Saartjie Baartman, we are remembering and honouring a woman who has become an icon, not only to her own Khoikhoi people, but to all women who know oppression and discrimination in their lives.

The story of Saartjie Baartman is a sobering example of the devastation that men, in particular, have wreaked upon the bodies and minds of women and it feels like a suitable name for a centre that is doing so much to reverse that.

Saartjie Baartman Centre

The Centre for Women and Children

i was only able to connect with Centre Director Bernadine Bachar for a short while as she is a super busy woman and was off to do a Skype interview with an Irish organisation directly after her time with me. But even the time we spent together was super inspiring as i was given a glimpse of what goes on in the centre.

The Saartjie Baartman Centre has been running for 20 years and in that time they have worked with over 260 000 gender-based violence survivors. Those numbers are immense. Can we just pause for a moment and take that in. 260 000 women and children. From around the country and even further into Africa.

They use a model called Khuseleka which translates directly as ‘Be safe’ with the idea that all the services needed for the women and children are located in one space. So the idea is to have the shelter and all of the partnerships in one space. Bernadine was candid that while the model is a fantastic model in principle, in practice it doesn’t quite work as well because of the need for buy in from all the various bodies but “We work with what we’ve got” and they really do seem to do very well with what they have.

They have a shelter space that can take up to 120 people at a time [the idea is for women to stay there with their children and not be separated from them] where they initially offer a four month stay in which time there is opportunity for personal and group therapy as well as services such as job training, IT skills, First Aid learning and Parenting skills.

The focus is on formulating an individual development plan which is taylored to the specific needs of each individual with the purpose of helping them to return to the community they are from.

When Bernadine spoke about some of the different opportunities available to the women and children at the centre i was blown away as the list just seems to go on and on – from a Legal Protection Programme to an Advocacy and Lobbying Program, a Substance Abuse Unit and Child Protection Prorgramme  and more. And if the work they are doing at the Centre is not enough, they also have a road show where they visit rural areas, towns and corporations to connect and educate and share some of their services.

One thing Bernadine shared with me which was really impressive was the stat that 70% of the women who are part of the centre do not relapse. Which is a really big number. Especially if you have any kind of understanding of recidivism [relapse] figures when it comes to most places that are dealing with such hectic issues. That is really testimony to the work that the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children are doing.

It was a short visit, but it left a deep imprint on my heart and mind. How are we going to find help for this organisation that is doing such good work in the areas of need they have which are primarily funding and partnerships [like the one with Fair Cape Dairy which got me involved]

The picture above is of a mosaic artwork that appears in the lobby of the Centre and it has these words on it:

I am a young African woman

A unique individual with my own personal inspiration which is the golden key to build my future

With a heart that’s been destroyed, I can still feel love and care for others

With a mind so confused, I can still react positively to others

With a pain that has cut deep down in me, I can still feel sympathy for others

In all that is in me, I can be the person that I am

The one whose heart is filled with joy and passion,

I am me and that’s what I will always be

Fair Cape Saartjie Baartman collaboration

The Fair Cape Collaboration

Which brings me full circle to my original connection to the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children which is Fair Cape Dairy.

They have a promotion coming up on these six-pack of yoghurts where for each pack bought they will be donating 50c to the Saartjie Baartman Centre. And while 50c may not sound like a lot, Fair Cape sells a whole lot of yoghurt and so that stuff adds up.

If you do not usually go for Fair Cape when you are choosing your yoghurt, this is one extra reason to grab a pack of these, especially if you have children, who tend to love this stuff.

Fair Cape Dairy has the slogan ‘Do The Right Thing’ and this is just one more way in which they are seeking to do that. So it really does seem like a win-win situation and they are a brand i find it quite easy to get behind.

The launch of the yoghurts is happening on Monday at the Centre from 13h00 to 14h20. Please come and check it out if you are able.