Scene 5: A Motivation for our Work


Through our first two days in 7de Laan, we were able to interview a variety of community members.  Even though it was the first time they met us, they opened up to us with ease and shared their unique stories. There were two stories in particular that impacted us. Both of them dealt with disabled family members, and the additional obstacles that this brings to the already harsh living conditions in which these families live.

Cast of Characters

WPI Project Team
City Employee: Anneline Plaaitjies
7de Laan Residents: Jenny, Paul, Kathleen, Felicia


The 7de Laan informal settlement


After the welcoming environment in which we were received in 7de Laan, four students were introduced by one of the community leaders to Jennifer Julies. In her, we observed a very tired woman, whose sweat came down her forehead. Some minutes ago she had just arrived from a long walk from work. She started explaining us her daily routine, which consists of waking up every morning at 4:00 am to walk to work where she prepares sandwiches for the kids at a crèche. Then she arrives to home at late morning to take care of her disabled boyfriend, Paul, and her children Abby (14 years old) and Elrico (3 years old).


Jenny and her family in their home

Even though she needed to rest, she did not hesitate to invite us into her house.  As we came inside, Jenny disappeared into a room and came back a few minutes later carrying her husband into the living room with the help of her daughter. As they laid him on the sofa, we noticed that he had a serious injury in the back that impedes him from doing any physical activity. This has not only forced Jenny to be the only worker of her family, but also has caused Abby to drop out of school in order to take care of her brother while her mother is at work.  Jenny also explained to us that this situation causes a constant concern, as they don’t yet know the medical procedures her husband has to undergo and the economical resources that will be needed for it.

Through our time with Jenny, we also observed the strength she possessed to overcome the many obstacles she had encountered. Only four months ago, her family was moved by the council from a settlement in Phillipi to 7de Laan. When they arrived, they only found the piece of land, even though it had been promised that they would be provided with a structure. Therefore, in the middle of the winter, Jenny had to build the shack by herself with materials she found around. However, since then she was able to find a job, and feels that today she is living in a safer environment.

On our second day, we heard another powerful story. As soon as we arrived, a group of us followed Anneline into the first shack to the right of the settlement where we met Kathleen. This 59 year old woman immediately invited us inside. In contrast to the houses we visited on the previous day, Kathleen’s home contained a microwave, a washer, some kitchen cabinets and bigger rooms in general. However, as we pulled back the blanket dividing the shack and entered the living room, a shocking image came to us.

Sitting at the end of the room was a short-haired woman tied to the sofa with string to prevent her from falling off. As we spoke with Kathleen in this room full of flies, we discovered the story of her and her disabled daughter Felicia. Unfortunately, 36 year old Felicia underwent several strokes, and suffered hemorrhages that put her in a coma for some months. Even though she came back from the coma, she was left unable to speak and needs supervision at all times. Since then her mother has dedicated herself to taking care of Felicia with the assistance of government aid.

During the last 10 years, the family has had to undergo difficult situations and sacrifices. As explained by Kathleen, it is not easy taking care of her daughter and sometimes she needs a break. However, she does not want to leave her daughter in someone else’s hands and prefers to take care of Felicia herself. Since she could no longer afford her previous home in formal housing, she had to abandon her job as a crèche teacher and move into the informal settlement of 7de Laan. This demonstrated Kathleen’s sacrifice for Felicia and the ongoing challenges she must face to take care of her disabled daughter.


During our visit to 7de Laan we listened to several stories. We found that many of these residents not only live in poor conditions, but face additional challenges. Some, like these two women, have had to make many sacrifices in order to take care of loved ones.  Through meeting these women and listening to their life stories, we were sincerely humbled by their strength and steadfastness under such crippling circumstances.  We understood their hard work and striving nature, and it provided us with a deeper motivation to work for the community and find ways to assist them.