A girls Mentorship Club in Alexandria Township
2009 Tutu Fellow Geci Karuri-Sebina PhD is a researcher, thinker, futurist, and policy specialist working as Cities Network Executive Manager in South Africa. For her Tutu Community Project, she conceptualised a project called the Tswelopele Sisterhood and Girls Club in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, South Africa.
It is a girl-focused self-development project which seeks to increase the girls' life chances under difficult circumstances, by emphasizing self-awareness, responsibility, determination and growth. This is done through mutual support, mentorship, soft skills development, and network building. It also facilitated targeted interventions such as reading clubs, tutoring, self-defence classes, and other support.
Tswelopele was not set up to be a big formal organisation to demonstrate leadership. Instead, Geci said, it represented some of the tenets she wrote about in her Tutu Fellowship essay on leadership, which focused on followership. "It dealt with how I could be a follower and “follow a community” and be of service to it on the terms that it needed. And what everyone said was needed in Alex was for girls to believe that there was hope, and that they could do and be more than what their environment might suggest."
She partnered with two other concerned local women, Yoliswa Kgasago, the Senior Librarian at Alex 8th Ave Library, and Penny Thloloe a Community Activist and resident. Since then, additional "Big Sisters" have come on board to passionately and generously mentor and support the girls. The participating Alex sisters vary over time, but are generally teenage girls called Explorers, and a young adults who have progressed through the programme, ranging from 18-26. They all live in Alex, and mostly initially come from the local Realogile Secondary School and Alex High School, starting from Grade 10.
The group continues to grow and evolve over time, and continues to be open to supporting inputs. Geci said that it's all about securing a better future for amazing girls in Alex.
With regards to the project impact, Tswelopele mainly captures the girls own stories and voices. The group has attracted significant support and recognition from a range of women leaders in the country, including Zanele Mbeki at SAWID; Lilian Barnard, the CEO at Microsoft South Africa; and numerous other activists, businesswomen, scholars, educators and authors. It has also obtained the support and hosting of a range of organisations such as Standard Chartered, EY, Afrokulcha, and media, including Al Jazeera, and Radio Today.
In the development perspective of the project, the leading team has initiated a series of actions like:
- An exciting partnership with another Tutu Fellow, Hema Vallabh, and her WomEng initiative in 2019 where it ran a GirlEng workshop with the Tswelopele girls to expose them to engineering as a career prospect.
- Introducing virtual engagements to keep girls encouraged, and providing physical care packages to the girls as the COVID-19 pandemic affected the group, given that our primary engagement was a physical meeting in Alex, once a month.