Scene i: Painting the Town


A mere four days ago, we left paint splotches overnight with the women, had them come to consensus on colors, and took a trip to Olympia Paint to place a large order. After receiving a call from Mama that the paint had been delivered, the team moved excitedly from the “planning” phase to the major “action” steps of painting.

Cast of Characters

WPI Safe House Team


Community Women: A group of women from the surrounding area who work for a small fee.


The paint has been delivered after what feels like a long wait. On a warm Thursday morning, the Safe House team anxiously arrives at Sizakuyenza. All of the furniture has been moved out of the rooms and the mattresses stacked neatly in the lounge. The women were up at 0400 to move the furniture and they too are excited for the work to be done today. To our surprise, there is a small group of community women who are at the Safe House, they will also be helping get some of the priming done.

Our paint supplies from Olympia Paints arrived

Our paint supplies from Olympia Paints arrived

Actions and Observations

The eleven of us began by wiping down the walls of any dirt and mildew that had built up. The women took to this task enthusiastically and the walls were quickly wiped down. They knew the method to scrub best with least effort, and we were able to learn from them. At this point, we discovered that there was a pretty significant language barrier with several of the women. This presented a problem where the women just agreed with what we asked, and moved on with work unclear of our direction or questions.

After we finished washing down the walls, it was time to tape. Each team of two got a roll of tape and lined the edges of windows, doors, and light switches. When the last of the tape was being stuck, white primer sloshed into the black trays that were gently carried into each bedroom on top of the drop sheets. The entire team worked together to prime three bedrooms, each person with their own flare. With music from the hot pink stereo blasting through the halls and plenty of dancing we thoroughly enjoyed our day. After the priming was complete the women retired to the other room to clean up our messy job and and we volunteered to clean up the supplies in preparation for the next day.

Julia works with two of the community women to paint one of the bedrooms

Julia works with two of the community women to paint one of the bedrooms

Reflection and Learning

While we have connected with the women in many ways, connecting through teamwork is very different. The women that joined us today were eager to learn, but were we ready to teach when we had very little experience ourselves? Our approach had to be one of learning together. When starting to tape a woman looked at at me and said, “You do first, I learn fast” and watched and lent a helping hand holding the strip down as the doorway was covered. Thinking of the advice from Scott and Steve, I replied ,“We learn together”. As she outstretched her hand for the tape to complete the other side of the door, she said, “I understand”. In this manner, there were not two black hands and two white, but ten fingers, all equal working toward a goal. Interestingly enough, we didn’t have to know where one another came from to understand the other was ready to work hard. At the end of the day, three bedrooms were primed in white, and eleven people were exhausted. More than this, many new connections flourished and respect was gained. I developed an understanding through the community volunteers about the strength of women in Cape Town.

At one point I left one of the large canisters of paint behind, remarking about how one of the guys on the team could get it. A woman looked at me and laughed as she lifted it. She exclaimed, “We are

women. We are strong too”. This moment with a woman who I learned later was Th., a previous resident of the Safe House, is one that I believe reflects the work that Sizakuyenza can do for empowering women.

Notes for Future Scenes

We had hoped that painting would be a great way to get everyone involved and make a large impact. Unfortunately, on a large scale, multi-room painting endeavor, keeping everyone engaged the entire time was a big challenge. At times, we had to rush to get more paint and brushes to keep everyone going. We must continue to actively involve all of the women that have been helping us and plan adequately so all members can be contributing at the same time, and also be self-sufficient in the painting process. On a task that requires as much time and concentration as painting, it can be easy for people to become less motivated. As a team, we can continue to split up and each work with some women to keep an upbeat, productive attitude.

Chrissy, Jon, and Golden work together to keep the paint trays filled so painting can continue

Chrissy, Jon, and Golden work together to keep the paint trays filled so painting can continue


When we arrived at the safe house this morning, there were already women from the community there to work with us. Many came from the women’s support network, another facet of Sizakuyenza. Several of these women, like Th., were also graduates of the safe house were clearly eager to give back to the place that had done so much for them. One of the women expressed how excited she was that we were painting the bedrooms, saying that this “would make the women feel safe and strong again, like it did for me when I was here.” Although the language barrier barred clear communication between us and the other women, we had a great time painting together. Everyone worked hard, however, the mood stayed light. We again had the opportunity to show off the Xhosa phrases that Mama Pilisani has taught us, to the great amusement of the people we were working with. Someone got a radio from one of the rooms, and we had fun dancing to the music as we painted.

Scene ii >>