Children in well-worn school uniforms play on the dirt road that runs past the small, red-brick structure on the corner of an unnamed street in Orange Farm, about 45km south of Johannesburg in South Africa’s Gauteng province. Established in 1988, Orange Farm is one of South Africa’s youngest township, with the original inhabitants consisting predominantly of laid-off farm workers from the surrounding area. Later, as the township became more established, people migrated from Soweto to take up residence in Orange Farm. Many of the people who settled here were unemployed or marginalised in some manner.
This is the context from which Gender Links’ partner organisation Let Us Grow operates the Sunrise Campaign, a community-run empowerment programme for women in the area. Let Us Grow provides support and networking, training and activities for women who have experienced domestic abuse, sexual violence or stigma due to their status as HIV-positive. Many women have experienced all three. The organisation began as a support group for women living with HIV, but has since expanded to include a large network of female entrepreneurs, home- based care workers and survivors of violence and abuse. Each one is set on changing her world into a place of equality, safety and autonomy, free of fear, abuse and discrimination.
At the heart of Let Us Grow is 71-year-old Rose Thamae, who started the organisation in 1996 at a time when women’s issues were not on the table – services or support for people living with HIV was non-existent. The organisation has since evolved into a community of support, empowerment and hope for the women of the area.