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Shaheema McLeod closes the book on Saartjie Baartman

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After fourteen years of dedication and hard work at the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Abused Women and Children, a Shaheema McLeod is closing the final chapter as director of the NGO. She has been phenomenal in moulding and revitalizing the lives of women and children who has been victims of abuse.

Speaking to VOC News, McLeod said she came to the centre fourteen years ago to do a feasibility study for three months, but then fell in love with the centre and its women and “couldn’t leave them”.

“I have pondered about leaving for a few months as it’s a very difficult decision to make but I’m certain the person replacing me will do a great job,” she said.

“I am going to miss the women immensely but the person replacing me will have the same drive and their well-being at heart. When I started at the Saartjie Baartman Centre, we had no funding and I had to forge new relationships, reinventing partnerships with particular with the government sector,” she adds.

The centre provides safety for women and children and gives a voice for the most vulnerable in our society.

“The legacy I want to leave behind is that Saartjie Baartman Centre advocates for women and children’s rights, we don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk,” she said.

A project which McLeod is very proud of is the Khuseleka partnership with the Western Cape Department of Social Development, and more recently the in-patient substance abuse programme.

“We have had a 98% success rate in the last year, this is due to our program is designed for women who were victims of gender based violence at the substance addiction angle and having their children with them,” she explained.

“The boy child coming from an abusive relationship takes the role of the man in the house; therefore it’s vital that we work through the trauma with them. We show them how to manage their anger, behaviour and instil discipline, and we work on the mothers parenting skills. The children coming with their mothers needs to understand that their parents only want the best for them, and they need to develop respect for themselves, the mother and siblings,” she said.

Asked about her most painful experience at the centre, McLeod talks candidly about losing a client 2 years ago at the hands of her violent partner.

“She was killed less than 500m from the centre and that was the most heart breaking moment for me. I then wanted to give-up, as I had to break the news to her parents that she was murdered by her abusive partner. You are confronted daily at how violent and sick society can be and it takes a toll on you. That moment said to me enough is enough.”

McLeod believes that while she has made significant progess at the centre, it is time for new blood.

“This work is exhausting. I am tired, I believe you should listen to your body. I feel its time someone with renewed energy is needed in the team. One of the main reasons why I decided to give up my work, is that I want to spend more time with my family as I have missed out quite a bit,” said McLeod.

The brave and fearless advocacy worker is going to take a six-month break and then decide what her next challenge will be. For now, it’s a time of relaxation and rejuvenation.

“In the end, if you have a passion and you want to advocate for women and children in South Africa a country that is marked by patriarchy, make sure you trust your gut, work with your team and you will be okay.” VOC

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