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A grandmother’s love begins a journey of healing

Life Choices is a Salesian program that works with communities on the Cape Flats to help young people learn life skills that allows them to overcome poverty. One of the programs — Family Affairs — equips parents with skills and psychosocial support to raise their children with positive values and influences. Soraya Salie, a grandmother, shares her story of how the program helped her to make a new start with her grandchildren and become a support for her community.

I grew up in Bonteheuwel in a very poor family. I was one of 10 children, and our home environment was very abusive. My father, like so many in our troubled community, was an alcoholic who used to physically and emotionally abuse my Mom and if we got in the way, he took his rage out on us children as well.

As we were so poor, I remember having to wait for my older sister to outgrow her uniform so that I could have a school uniform. I never had a school bag for my books. We couldn’t afford such luxuries, so I carried my books in a plastic bag. I’ll never forget the day my sister’s old satchel broke and I was given the broken bag. I was so excited to finally own my ‘own’ satchel, old as it was.

Neither of my parents had been educated, it wasn’t compulsory for non-white people to receive education during apartheid. My mom could neither read nor write, but she was very shrewd with money. You couldn’t fool her with a half-cent and she used this astuteness to provide for our large family.

Not having educated parents impacted us as kids because our parents could not help us with school work. Despite that, our parents kept us all under pressure insisting we had to be in the top 10 of our class throughout our school career – they may not have been educated, but they understood the importance of education. I was proud to achieve a school diploma every year for my academic efforts.

I had always wanted to be a nurse, but our financial circumstances stopped me from materialising this dream. This was the norm in our communities, kids were sent out to work to help their families. So, I left school when I was just 15 and got a job at the little neighbourhood Indian supermarket. It was here that I started gaining retail experience and began my career that culminated as a sales manager managing a team of 27 staff in the formal retail sector.

Never too late for new lessons

I have been married for 39 years, I have two children that are now married and six grandchildren. Last year, I decided to get involved in the Life Choices Family Affairs programme. That journey changed my life. From that first session, where we focused on self-esteem, I realised that negativity pulls you down in life.

Retrospectively I can see how much I missed out on with my children.

I got to reflect honestly on my lack of awareness. The deep reflection within myself showed me how angry I was about the way I was raised. I learnt to feel gratitude, shifting from bitter to better. We worked with the principle of ‘victim vs victor’ which was a huge “aha” moment for me. I felt as though I was seeing life for the first time.

Because of the violent domestic cycle in which I had been reared – ‘commander style’ – I naturally raised my children the same way. Commanding! Demanding! Retrospectively I can see how much I missed out on with my children – we were arrogant parents “children should be seen, not heard”. We did so much harm to our children.

My one son became a drug addict and perpetuated the same commander style with his children but through the Family Affairs programme, I have been able to introduce new ways of parenting to my children for their children.

As a grandmother, I can approach my grandchildren differently and I try to influence my children to parent with the wisdom I learnt in Family Affairs. My two sons live close by, and we all have “no put down zones” in our homes now – building confidence instead of robbing our children of it. It is such a powerful programme – it cuts through our culture and the brokenness of how we were raised, and in turn, raised our children.

Another skill I learnt during the Family Affairs programme was mindfulness. It has helped me to slow down, to reflect and to stay focused. It also helps me to respond and not react, which has created a gentler home space. I discovered that ‘silence is golden’ and allows a place for everyone to be heard.

It is such a powerful programme – it cuts through our culture and the brokenness of how we were raised, and in turn, raised our children.

As we speak, two of my grandchildren are entering adolescence. I have been surprised at my ability to be able to speak to them about sex, hormonal changes, their body changes and how to accept this as natural and not something to be hidden or ashamed of. It is so opposite to how I was raised.

Given South Africa’s Gender-Based Violence pandemic, I have taught my grandsons to be respectful of, and protective of girls. I encourage women in my community to speak openly to their children and grandchildren about the topic. No one is less, no one is more. We are all equal. It has been very empowering to be able to talk frankly with my grandchildren and to know I am making a difference in their lives. I was never raised like this, nor was I able to raise my sons like this. Looking back I realise that had I not been able to see the limitations I had been raised within the first sessions, I wouldn’t have been able to embrace the skills and principles we learnt at Family Affairs in the subsequent sessions.

One person can influence a community

For me, the tolerance and inspiration I received through the Family Affairs programme has deeply changed me. Initially, I felt guilty for how I had raised my children, but with encouragement, I was able to apologise to my children and heal my family. There were many tears around our dining table when my husband and I spoke to our family and apologised for our lack of understanding, but it allowed us to create and live by the Salie family acronym – Support, Affection, Love, Inspiration and Enthusiasm. This drives our family values and helps us to be closer together.

There were many tears around our dining table when my husband and I spoke to our family and apologised for our lack of understanding.

At the end of the Family Affairs sessions, we continue meeting one another twice a week and walk the perimeter of Bonteheuwel, ending at the community centre where we exercise and support one another. Out of this group we have formed so many collaborations with various organisations, establishing an International Women’s Peace Group in Bonties.

This involvement allowed me to attend the 3rd Annual Commemoration of the World Alliance of Religions’ Peace (WARP) Summit in South Korea – as a result, I came home with a packet of sunflower seeds which started the Peace Garden in my community. We are proud of the garden we have created and the community is involved in caring for it. The Family Affairs ripple effect continues to be felt in my heart and in my community.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.