For two stormy winter days in Perth we were visited by two extraordinary women from South Africa on a whirlwind tour of the country visiting politicians, speaking to the media and being at the centre of public events for the both the GROW and Make Poverty History campaigns.
Roseline Presence and Gertruida Barman’s inspiring stories of tackling hunger in their communities left a path of tears, laughter and belief that change is not only possible but a certainty, when women are given the opportunity to be leaders in their community.
In Perth their first visit was speaking to 300 students from one of Perth’s most prestigious girls school (Methodist Ladies College). A far cry from the Western Cape where hunger is all too common, where mothers are often reduced to begging to feed their families, and children, especially girls are taken out of school to work for poverty wages.
As Gertruida recounted her own moving story of being taken from school as a ten year old to work in a kitchen, a tear rolled down her face. It was soon joined by the tears of the 300 students at the school as well as the teachers and the principal. The tears did not stop for the whole moving story from sadness to inspiration as Gertruida told how she went on to become a leader in her community and even travel the world taking on big corporations and winning to improve the conditions of women working in farms in her community.
At the end of the session the students wrote moving messages on leaves to be put on a Make Poverty History tree that would feature in an important event the next day. The school also chose three of the students to attend the event.
That evening there were more tears at the GROW Africa night in Fremantle as Gertruida and Roseline spoke followed by the wonderful African acapella Group ‘Tendera.’ Roseline and Gertruida held their own both on the podium and the dance floor. The highlight of evening was a moving rendition by Gertruida and Roseline of a song they wrote with their community. Gertruida and Roseline also met with the Mayor of Fremantle, Brad Pettitt who committed to asking his council to officially support the GROW campaign.
The next day Roseline and Gertruida had to do it all again. Only this time they had to share the podium with the shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Julie Bishop. The event was the opening of the ‘Road to 2015’ GROW Make Poverty History photo exhibition.
This was the first time Julie Bishop had spoken about foreign aid since the bipartisan agreement between the Labor Party and Liberals had collapsed with Labor reneging on their promise to increase foreign aid by 0.5% GNI by 2015. Again both women spoke well, inspiring all in attendance. Julie Bishop spoke positively about investing in gender and women’s equality as the greatest way to improve development. She also committed the Liberal party to recommit to 0.5%GNI in foreign aid and laid down a date (May 2013) to set a timeline to reach this target. This was a great step forward for the campaign.
The trip finished with a trip to City Farm in Perth where notes were exchanged on non-chemical ways to destroy pests and grow mushrooms, then all too soon Gertruida and Roseline were flying back to South Africa, but not without leaving a lasting legacy on all who met them them.
We thank them for their visit and wish them success in continuing to grow a better world.
by Paddy Cullen, Western Australia Campaign Coordinator