Susie Weekes

Susie Weekes

In 2014 the beneficiary of our production of In Darfur, Winter Miller’s powerful drama about the impact of war on the people in the northeastern African nation of Sudan, was the thirteen women employed as housemothers at Mother of Peace Orphanage in Ilovo, South Africa. Our Berkshire connection was Susie Walker Weekes, who explained to us in a blog interview then her long commitment to the MoP-Ilovo community. Nearly a year later, we checked in to find out what impact our gift had had on the housemothers, and what was new in Ilovo.

WAM: It’s been almost a year since In Darfur. How has our donation been used?

Susie Weekes: Mother of Peace Ilovo believes that empowering women by helping them reclaim their personal power is essential to the growth and development of the children. In order to help our housemothers develop their Financial Literacy, the leaders at Mother of Peace decided to divide the money into two parts: what the mothers needed to save in order to realize their personal goals, and investment in continued training and professional development. They are each receiving some money every month and will continue to do so until February, 2016, when the funds will have been exhausted.  A facilitator has been hired to do individualized child care training workshops, depending on the needs of each housemother. In addition they have taken part in workshops on managing stress, working with children with special needs, and better ways of cooking and recycling with a Women’s Circle of Life  workshop on purpose and a Teambuilding event scheduled this fall – all funded by the WAM donation.

WAM: What have the housemothers done with their gifts so far?

Susie: The majority of the housemothers have invested it in their children’s education. Two mothers have worked on the structure of their homes – for example, building an additional room or moving from a mud structure (house made of mud) to a house made of bricks. One of the mothers asked for help with a business plan because she has been saving her money and wants to build six rooms to rent out at R350 per room! She has a big yard and a mud structure but wants to build with blocks to rent them out.

WAM: Mother of Peace-Ilovo is a dynamic place! It is impressive how many programs and people have been supported just by WAM’s donation. What else is new there in the past year?

Susie: So much is happening! I will let Iris, the manager at Mother of Peace-Ilovo, explain some of the activities and new initiatives:

Iris: This year we’ve admitted five children: A seven year old boy, a four year old boy, a two month old girl, and newborn twin girls who were admitted at 10 days old and are now three months. The two month old, who is now five months old, has been placed with foster parents who will adopt her at a later stage.

We are currently converting an old chicken feed store into a creative arts studio. It still needs a lot of work but one room has been completed. The children have started making “ukhumba”, which is a little container used for holding water.  In traditional Zulu culture water is life so it is symbolic of holding life together…the ukhamba programme gives children and volunteers the opportunity to create together. They will be starting to make other pottery items soon.

Our new Craft Volunteer will commence duty before the end of September. There has been an expansion of new gift ideas with the children increasing their creativity through beadwork (weaving) and the making of hope sacks, which are little bags with symbols of hope.

We have just started an indigenous band with eight djemebe drums, rain sticks and shakers and an introduction to djembe playing has been facilitated with a small company called Drum Shack. A local musician has lobbied a few people to help us get the first song on these instruments recorded. We have been invited to participate at the Annual Music Festival in Toti on December 5 which will help us prepare for our own mini concert.

Perhaps the greatest success has been in the development of the children. We are so focused internally on how they can achieve their full potential and the individual development program has been key to achieving this. We have re-launched the Sponsor a Child Program at R299 per child to help us achieve this. We have one child registered in the Internal Peace Players program that combines basketball and life skills so that children are better equipped to tackle social skills; three children in Scouts; teens have undergone the healing of memories program that helps them overcome painful memories, and we did a boot camp program for 7 and 8 year olds.  There is currently a facilitator interested in managing our sports and recreation program who will incorporate life skills and sport.

We have been very fortunate to have Dr Marina Botes, an experienced Social Worker, relocate here and join our team. Her priorities include individual Therapy including play therapy, group therapy and groups for the mothers and parents in the community to enhance coping skills. Brian Hill, a retired businessman and musician, has joined us as driver and will also help teach music.

And finally, Ray Buckland, a retired General Manager in the Bread Making Business, has joined our Maintenance Team. While he will be helping with the much-needed up-keep of our facilities, he has also been instrumental in helping us bake a better loaf of bread at a low cost. We bake 196 loaves of bread per month in our house bakery to serve our internal needs, and we believe that there is room for growth and entrepreneurial development in this area so that children with special needs are able to acquire a marketable skill. With funding opportunities, we will expand to support local shops with a healthier loaf of bread.

Check presentation with Susie Weekes and the "In Darfur" cast and crew.

Check presentation with Susie Weekes and the “In Darfur” cast and crew.

WAM: We had heard that some of the housemothers had hoped to travel to the USA this summer. Did that happen?

Susie: We had hoped to have two housemothers and some of the young singers come this past summer but it was wisely decided by Iris and her support staff that it would be a huge cultural leap for them. Instead, the first step will be bringing them out into the communities in South Africa and offering them more cultural experiences there. Then we hope to bring them here.

WAM: 2010 WAM beneficiary Shirley Edgerton was able to visit Mother of Peace-Ilovo with you last winter. She is hoping that some of her ROPE girls can travel to Ilovo during their February vacation week this coming winter. It would be exciting if that can happen. What other ways is the local community getting involved with Mother of Peace?

Susie: A couple of hopeful steps in connecting Mother of Peace with our community: We have a number of people who we are organizing to visit Mother of Peace this winter as both donors and volunteers. Some will be working in the the theater with them, some with music and others in the classroom and possibly in the gardens.

Shirley and I have been friends for several years and, like everyone who spends a few days at this amazing facility, she felt a powerful connection when she visited Ilovo. If the ROPE girls are able to get over there it will benefit them in broadening their cultural world in a powerfully experimental way. For the children at Mother of Peace it will give them a connection with girls in the USA, making a future trip here just that much more comfortable for them.