Scene ii: Meeting the Entire Crew


We had the privilege of meeting with Gershwin Kohler, the project liaison. Gershwin has been involved in Sizakuyenza for several years and has many ideas for the future of the organization. A few of the Safe House residents were home today, giving us the opportunity to connect with them as we develop our goals for the next several weeks.

Cast of Characters

WPI Safe House Team

Gershwin Kholer: As the liaison to the project and financier of Sizakuyenza, Mr. Kohler facilitated the communication and connection between the WPI project team and the Sizakuyenza organization. He provided supervision, guidance, prioritization of goals, and allocated funds for the WPI team.

Mama Pilisani

Safe House Residents: The women and children living in the safe house played a crucial role in providing input for the project. The projects and their prioritization came from residents because they are able to utilize the resources best.


The sound of laughter and assorted clicks filled the room as we practiced pronouncing different Xhosa phrases. Xhosa is the language widely spoken in the safe house, and the residents are delighted that we are trying to learn a few phrases. Mama Pilisani corrects our pronunciation, and the room erupts with laughter again as we try to introduce ourselves in Xhosa.


We were surprised to see Gershwin at the Safe House when we arrived, but were so excited for the opportunity to discuss our goals and ideas with him. He greeted us eagerly, proudly pointing out that he was wearing his shirt from the WPI team who worked with him last year. We circled up in a small office with him and Mama Pilisani, and discussed each of our roles in the project for the weeks to come. Gershwin has a clear passion for the work he does, yet made us feel right at home with his conversational tone and distinctive laugh. He offered advice on some immediate goals to address in the next two weeks, as he will be traveling to Europe. We felt assured that we were in good hands while he was gone, with Mama Pilisani and the rest of the Sizakuyenza staff. He explained that we would be meeting with the financial manager and head caretaker on Monday, and would gain even more valuable insights on our project from them. Although the many objectives of this project felt daunting, we were encouraged by Gershwin’s affirmation of the difference we would be making. “We are so busy in the busyness of life and busyness of surviving program that it’s difficult to rise beyond daily realities and look at fresh and creative initiatives. Busyness undermines potential that can be extracted. Let’s bring a little joy to people’s lives.”

Planning Questions

  • How can we connect with the women of the safe house so they feel comfortable giving feedback to us?
  • What is Gershwin looking for as improvements in the yard?
  • How can we best prioritize the specific outcomes of the yard?
  • Who should have the most influence on our prioritization?

Action and Observation

Gershwin followed us outside to look at some of the developments to be made in the yard.  Pointing to different elements of the yard, Gershwin eagerly described the problems that exist in the yard. From crèche design to relocation of the garden, we will have to look to the women and Mama Pilisani to attack these problems with creative solutions. Looking up at the tangled clotheslines, our minds explored the possibilities that were all around us.


Discussing the plans.

Soon, our ideas flowed more freely when Gershwin left and we measured and sketched the dimensions of the yard. Sam took pictures of the current state of the yard while Jake measured the dimensions of the enclosure for anticipated AutoCAD design.  When the measuring was complete, the shade of the house presented comfort from the hot sun. Mama Pilisani was waiting at the table with five residents, and invited us to sit for lunch. While we laughed and practiced our clicks, the women kindly brought out large platters of finger sandwiches. We filled our anxious and excited stomachs with very different cuisine than we are used to. One of the sandwiches we all tried was a sardine like fish that was unlike anything we had tasted before.


Inspecting the play structure.

We explained our role to the women and invited any questions that they had. Conversation revolved around favorite traditional dishes, bridging cultural gaps. As we had expected, the women perceived the American lifestyle to be universally luxurious. When we explained that Americans have many of the same struggles as South Africans, and TV shows are distant from reality, an even closer connection was created.

Mama Pilisani shared her personal experience with domestic violence in depth, and we listened intently. While it was shocking, we welcomed the honesty. Hopefully her vulnerability will encourage sharing of both our and the survivor’s stories.

Reflection and Learning

Gershwin was able to give us a lot of really helpful information about Sizakuyenza and our project opportunities. The scope of these opportunities is intimidating, and we will have to prioritize temporary and permanent solutions based on the time and resources we have available. It will be crucial to incorporate opinions from the women who live there and Mama Pilisani. Our interactions with the women today are promising that we will develop friendships and equality with them. While we were anxious to talk with the women, the conversation flowed much more organically then we had expected. The boys felt relieved that their interactions with the women did not seem to intimidate any of them, while they still felt they had to be very cautious on their actions. We enjoyed their questions about our lifestyles in America and the cultural barriers that we could feel crumbling.

Notes for Future Scenes

We plan on meeting with John from Blue Sky Recycling on Monday morning, He is the financial manager under Gershwin at the Safe House and will provide information on the website. We will prepare a set of questions to ask him about our contributions. Walking to the van today, we saw the Abalimi facility. Abalimi founded Harvest of Hope, an organization designed to help impoverished people gain gardening skills they can use to generate some sort of income. This program is very similar to what our team is trying to accomplish with the garden at the Safe House. We looked to them for examples.The Abalimi headquarters is within a two minute walk of the Safe House and could help the women with the gardening aspect greatly. In the near future, we should reach out to this organization to see if it could be a good fit. John, the manager of the recycling plant stopped by to ask our involvement in his facility. We invited him to the Tuesday morning meeting and hope that we can tour the facility but delicately make him aware of our commitments. Hopefully we can address his concerns while balancing all of the Sizakuyenza needs.

Scene iii >>