MTGF- Beacon of hope to despaired women

By: Thandiwe Kubere

Makhala Thekiso Girls Foundation was established by four women who had similar stories to tell about abuse and different life hassles. The foundation was established in 2016 and legally registered in 2018. The foundation seeks to empower the vulnerable and those marginalized in communities by holding boot camps, workshops ,seminars and conferences.

Makhala Thekiso, who the non-profit making organization was named after, was brave enough to tell her stories loud and share them for all to hear, so that other women going through similar situations, could resonate, get hope and find healing with her.

“We founded the organization because we wanted be a source of inspiration for someone out there going through the same challenges, to never give up in life. But to rather diversify their focus and look into positive matters instead of those that drain them, and to seek help from those who can assist in overcoming challenges” she said.

Thekiso enlightened that at first, the organization prioritized on the empowerment of the girl child, but later realized that it was of no use to leave the boy child behind because then the impact was weakened, more especially in matters relating to gender-based violence.

It is possible for some people to have ideas of starting non-profit organizations hoping to help people but eventually those ideas fade and do not get brought into reality due to lack of knowledge on where to start or how to proceed. What was different about the organization?

“Starting an NGO is so difficult. We utilized the sessions and lessons we got in the empowerment conferences. It was very easy to start, but when I looked at the impact we have had on people’s lives, we can’t afford to stop, we need to thrive forward and take all the steps we necessary to purse the journey we had started and succeed while at it”.

 She mentioned the main challenge as sharing the same space with already well-known organizations doing a similar job, and others trying to pull down the other. It is even difficult when one is young and a woman with a different approach to what is being done.

One of the major challenges she also encountered was exploitation. “When you are young and have fresh ideas, some people will come to you and claim to want to work with you. And once you open that door, they do not work with you, they only take what you bring to the table”.

Thekiso expressed the courage of sharing her own story that got other women to ease up and find the foundation a safe hub to be vulnerable and share their harsh life experiences. The foundation in turn ensures they get the help and support they need, whether mentally, physically and emotionally.

Sharing on her own life experiences, Makhala Thekiso revealed she grew up in a family of girls, and like any other family, they had their fair share of problems. But what stung more was the family having a lot of fights which led to unnecessary hatred and drifting from one another.

“We only knew our father as the only family we had. I grew up exposed to a lot of violence so I had to fight to survive.”

Makhala had instances where she encountered bullying to a point she needed to learn to stand for herself. She remembers moving from one primary School to the other and being put to sit next to a 14 year old when she was just 8. The girl would beat her up so Makhala could give her, her school work and would mercilessly take her lunch as well, leaving her to starve.

It was only a matter of time until other students copied this behavior and started treating her the same, making her schooling experience miserable. Adding to her somewhat “misfortune” at the time, was developing into an adolescent and experiencing body changes quicker than her peers.

“I started menstruation when I was only ten and then I was doing my grade 6. I had fully grown breasts, I remember one time when we were playing, they pushed me to the back of another classroom and lifted my dress just to see my breasts, they touched them and started laughing. You can imagine what that does to one’s self esteem, it broke me so much that I started being resentful and a loner. “I had to learn how to survive.”

Makhala expressed that when she got to Form A, with all the body changes she had not encountered and had not gotten used to herself, she was told to wear traditional attire, which exposed delicate areas, setting her up to be the target of most boys at school who claimed an affair with her. This resulted in hatred amongst her peers, with insults being hurled in every direction whenever she was present in a room and at the time she was only thirteen.

Her life almost took a turn when she was in Form C, but was soon accused of dating a teacher. “I was beaten terribly to admit something that was not true, until the teacher lost his job. This was when my life took the worst direction. I became a victim of different men in the village, who came in different ways and would scornfully say ‘you can’t reject me when you have slept with Nyeo (the teacher)’. I became so vulnerable to a point whereI lost so much in the process. I hated myself and underperformed in school.”

She expressed she felt lost and resorted to alcohol. At that time her family was already drifting and villagers didn’t look at her the same. She moved to another school and as if misery was clued on her like a glue, she suffered appendicitis in her final year, which got rumoured as abortion. She had grown a reputation so unfavorable that no one dared to be in her company. “Around that time, I had not even lost my virginity but the society had already decided on how they would regard me. I underperformed so much that I had to go back to the previous class in the previous school I went to. I had to fight because harsh words were thrown at me.”

She traced her life changing moment to when she was drinking with her friends and a lady walked to her. The lady asked what Thekiso was doing because she did not belong there. “She said to me, ‘you do not belong here. You need to go back and fix your life.’ That lady saved my life because I went back to school and work hard on my grades. I went to tertiary and got my diploma.” She furthered her studies and got to connect with her friends, who shared stories similar to hers.

Life is not easy alright, but it is crucial for one to never lose hope, for better days will come. Makhala’s story is a testament to the saying, “when the going gets tough, the tough gets going”.

One of the lessons she treasures and lives by is to conduct proper research on every opportunity that comes forth and who it requires one to work with. “Try to investigate who you have to partner with and find more about their background as well as their reputation. We work with people and everyone has their own motives, when yours could just be to help people, so be careful. Learn to read everything, every document or contract because that will save you in the long run”, she said.