Shelter chronicles survivors’ resilience

Sisters Incorporated manager Delene Roberts, Lorraine de Villiers and author Dulcie Kirby.

To commemorate its 60th anniversary, a Kenilworth safe house will launch a book this week to tell the stories of the survivors who have passed through its doors.

The book, written by Dulcie Kirby, editor, author and musician, shares the six-decade-long history of the social-welfare shelter Sisters Incorporated, through the eyes of a fictional female survivor who follows the footsteps of the many survivors who have benefited from the organisation.

Sisters Incorporated opened its doors in 1959, when founders Lyn Veldhuizen and Sue Henderson, registered it as an organisation for single, pregnant white women at a time when there was a tremendous stigma attached to being unmarried and pregnant.

The legalisation of abortion saw the number of unmarried mothers in need of care decrease considerably, but at the same time the extent of domestic violence within the country became increasingly apparent.

Responding to the changing needs within society, the organisation amended its constitution, and opened its doors to abused women and their children regardless of race or religion.

Vice-chairwoman Lorraine de Villiers had the idea for the book last year and felt the women needed to have a voice, to tell their story.

She approached her long-time friend, Ms Kirby initially to help edit the book.

After going through all the case studies, annual general meeting minutes and newspaper clippings, the founders had managed to keep through all the years, Ms Kirby decided it would be best to tell the story through the eyes of a fictional narrator.

“I asked Ms Kirby to look at my idea for the book, but after seeing what I had, she was like ‘no, it has to read like a book’.”

Ms De Villiers said they decided on the title, Survivors, as the home cared for survivors of abuse.

Ms Kirby said she started on the book last year, writing in her spare time between work.

She said the story was told through a fictional narrator, Elmarie, who had been associated with the home through its history, having ended up at Sisters’ as a single pregnant mother in the 1960s.

She said while writing and going through all the notes, she at times needed to take a step back.

“It was traumatic reading the women’s stories. I would need to take time out to re-orientate myself and remind myself that it wasn’t about me but women in general,” said Ms Kirby.

Survivors is a testament, against the odds, to the resilience of women, both for those who flee abusive relationships and for those who contribute selflessly to the healing of gender-based violence victims.

It shows how cruelty and violence perpetrated by men on women and children can be countered by the loving concern, warmth and professionalism of those committed to healing. It also demonstrates how through determination, the vision of two women, Ms Veldhuizen and Ms Henderson, be-
came a reality.

Sisters’ manager Delene Roberts has been with the organisation for the past five years.

The home has bed space for 28, with women and their children staying an average of three months while they work with the social worker to get their life back on track.

If unemployed, the women are taught various skills to help them generate an income. There is also a crèche for the children at the home.

Ms Roberts said every day was different at the home as they work with women who dealt with domestic abuse, interpersonal abuse, rape survivors and women wanting to give up their children for adoption.

The women come either on their own or with their children, are screened to see if they match the home’s criteria and from there the healing process starts.

The home is partly funded by the Department of Social Development, while the organisation raises the rest of the funds needed to operate, which costs on average R160 000 a month.

The book will be avail-
able from Sisters Incorporated at R250. Contact the office at 021 797 4190.