Scene ii: The Return of Gershwin


We had been anticipating Gershwin’s return from a two week trip to Europe to catch him up on the flurry that had happened since his departure. Before he left, there was only time for a meeting and walk around the yard. In this very early stage, we gathered the needs that he saw and our main goals in this partnership. After his departure, we worked around his absence and took a hands-on approach. Excavating the fountain area to find a missing pump and torn tarp-basin, ordering paint with his pre-set contact at Olympia and beginning to paint, and gathering a variety of different ideas from the women for the yard were our major accomplishments. As a group, we were both excited to show him our progress and nervous to hear his opinions.

Cast of Characters

WPI Safe House Team

Gershwin Kholer


Mama Pilisani


Five copies of our meeting agenda were laid out on the mahogany table as half the Safe House team waited for the rest of the members to arrive. One by one, the key players in our project filed in to the cozy conference room in Sizakuyenza. Nontembiso and Mama Pilisani came in first, greeting us in Xhosa with a smile. Next came the remainder of the Safe House team, speckled in paint from the past few days. We spent our first ten minutes at the safe house that muggy morning pouring paint and setting up drop cloths, with some of us having stayed behind to talk to the women while others set up for the meeting. We explained to our eager volunteers that we would be back soon and if they wanted to start painting, they were welcome. The advisors entered the room and soon the important guest of this Tuesday meeting, Gershwin Kohler, was sitting and ready to begin.


Diligent planning with the managerial staff of Sizakuyenza.

Action and Observations

Our weekly meeting began at 0930 on Tuesday, with the main purpose to get Gershwin up to speed. We quickly ran through all of the changes we had made. After the meeting, Samantha and Jonathan took a walk around the Safe House yard with Gershwin and the social worker to go over the AutoCAD plan more in depth while the other team members went to work inside with the Safe House residents.

We went systematically through the various features of the yard. Gershwin offered thoughtful advice and asked probing, curious questions the entire time. This fresh perspective is where he made his largest contribution. His questions provoked some critical thinking from the group members and really made us think over why we had planned things as they were. With the assistance of the social worker, Gershwin was able to ask the right questions and spark many constructive changes to the team’s plans. The largest change was the size of the garden. Both Gershwin and the social worker informed the team how many women do not enjoy gardening because they see it as an activity for the elderly. We were very surprised to hear this, as much of our research had explained the therapeutic benefits of gardening and the garden is a significant portion of the current yard. We decided to use this new information to adjust the yard plan accordingly.

Although making the garden so much smaller was a difficult decision for some, one large benefit of cutting the size of the garden is the increased yard area. With this additional space, we will be able to consider options which seemed impossible before. Gershwin expressed concerns with the placement of the dryer lines because they were positioned in front of one of the Safe House exits. He felt moving them would encourage the women to go outdoors. Now the team can use some of the space previously designated to gardening space for drying lines. Gershwin’s interest and sincerity was a huge boost to the team’s morale. His insights will help to create a better experience for the women of the Safe House.


Gershwin noticed things that we had not picked up on, and offered concepts that we had not yet considered. Based on our conversation with him, we will be making a few significant adjustments to our design, particularly in the garden and dryer lines. The size of the garden will decrease significantly, based on his feedback. Rather than putting the dryer lines in the current patio space, we may build an extension from the patio and put the dryer lines there. We look forward to gaining more feedback from Gershwin as we continue to cultivate our designs.

Our meeting with Gershwin also opened many possibilities in the construction of a crèche. We have always been factoring the crèche into our designs, but were not planning to have much part in the construction process beyond a potential temporary structure. In our meeting, we discussed the connections forming between the Cape Town Project Center and the Center for Early Childhood Development (CECD). This connection could be used to build a bridge between CECD and Sizakuyenza, and we may be able to play a bigger role in crèche development, potentially even having a building before we leave Cape Town. Knowing what a significant need the on-site crèche is for the safe house, we are very excited about the possibilities of this. We hope to meet with the CECD and other resources that could play a key role in establishing a crèche at Sizakuyenza.

Reflection and Learning

The change of the garden was greatly unexpected. We had counted on some changes being made as Gershwin had yet to see the plan, however the garden was something we anticipated to be desirable. Our original information from Gershwin had been that he wanted to move and expand it.

This change did have a positive side in that it made us realize that we should be fluid with our ideas to accommodate changing input. Another benefit from this alteration is that the smaller size allows us to make the garden beds nicer. The funds for the garden are concentrated into a smaller area. This unexpected benefit taught us that sometimes compromising in one area can really improve another. Balancing all the aspects of the project and really opening our minds to all the possibilities is necessary to giving the women and children at the safe house the best possible results.

Notes for Future Scenes

As a team, we must keep our minds open, and not expect anything to be concrete. If we have not met with all the relevant parties, there is no way to tell whether they will all agree with the plans made. Even when we have consulted with everyone it is important to remember that things can still change with evolving conditions.

Scene iii >>