You cannot help but be moved by the location of The SheEO SleepOut 2017. A place where not that long ago oppression and degradation were everyday occurrences. Where women were held prisoner. Some for legitimate crimes, others for breaking the criminal laws of Apartheid. Many innocent women, some now famous political prisoners, having their dignity assaulted. Their freedom stolen. The location we find ourselves in is the Women’s Jail at, what is now, Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, South Africa.
What remains in this place is the reality of evil, of injustice, even death. It lingers in the air. It’s etched into the bricks and steel and concrete. Tonight this horrid reality is again on display. The only difference is the horrors now occur just beyond these memorialized walls. Mothers run in terror on the very streets around the buildings we occupy this night. Babies are abandoned and left to die. Discarded like trash. Dismissed as waste. Afforded no value for their lives.
But tonight is a new night in this historic space. Tonight these haunted halls become a beacon of hope. Tonight these sorrow-filled pathways hold promise of steps to a better life for women and children. This night, in this infamous place, is about liberty. Is about daughters, sisters, mothers having their presence acknowledged, more than that, their existence and contributions honored and cherished. Tonight is about fighting for the lives of everyone that is given breath in their lungs. Even, or most especially, those who have only taken a relatively few gasps of air.
THE NIGHTS EVENTS
Door of Hope representative – Nadene Grabham
After much anticipation the big night finally arrived. It all felt like a very royal affair, albeit somewhat macabre with young ladies dressed in prison outfits escorting you inside. The atmosphere was filled with excitement but all knew the night was one with serious intention. Successful women could feel proud to be included in such an event but also feel the weight of responsibility to stand up for those less fortunate and esteemed.
It all began with a tour of the Jail led by ex-prisoners. This was followed by song items from the Pretoria Girls High School choir and speeches from various dignitaries as we sat on metal buckets inside the prison atrium. SheEO Participants were then encouraged to join one of several fireside discussions centering around certain critical topics. These included: “Unsafe abandonment and the need for a safe-haven law” and “High level government support in the implementation of adoption as a child protection strategy.”
Time was given to get practically involved by making sandwiches for the homeless, as well as knitting hats and creating recycled sleeping bags. By this time special guests, Susan Shabangu (current Minister of the South African Department of Women) and Thuli Madonsela (former Public Protector of South Africa) had arrived to participate in the evening. They were given opportunity to share their loving hearts and concern for women and children. This was followed by a short film of Sophia Williams de Bruyn (former South Africa anti-apartheid activist) and then PJ Powers singing a beautiful song called Women of Africa. After the formal part of the evening concluded, SheEO’s mingled with each other and discussed how the corporate world could do more to make an impact on the homeless. As the night grew colder and colder participants tried to snuggle up in their sleeping bags, resting on a thin sheet of cardboard, to get some much-needed sleep, which proved to be hard to come by.
All in all, it was a good night for reflection as the female business leaders came together to gain empathy and discuss change for our sisters, mothers and daughters this Women’s Month. Door of Hope feel honored to have been chosen as the Primary beneficiary. Our hope and prayer is that somehow this will result in more lives saved and children finding the love and care they are worthy of. We give all glory to God.
We wish to say a MASSIVE Thank You to all the SHE-EO Participants, the wonderful CEO SleepOut™ dream team, and the many others that contributed to the success of this years initiative. Rest assured, your kindness and generosity will make a lasting impact on the lives of abandoned babies and children. From the Door of Hope team we say, a most sincere Thank You and God bless You.