Scene ii: The more we get together…


After eight long weeks, this is our last day of official work at the Safe House. In our time there, we have established relationships with all of the staff and the residents. We have accomplished so many different goals with the women: adjustable clotheslines, a designated space for all ages, a challenging playground for all ages, customized garden beds, interior renovation through painting, and a therapeutic fountain.

Cast of Characters

WPI Safe House Team

Safe House Residents

  • Sh.
  • A.
  • K.


Clouds of meat-scented smoke wafted through the kitchen and past our noses in the living room. Mama Pilisani looked at us, pointed to the haze and said, “This is how it is supposed to look. It means there is much happening”. Every resident was cooking sausage and chicken legs furiously for the celebration. The children worked all morning preparing dishes of chips of every variety, pitchers of tangy punch, and stacking paper plates for all. The music was loud through Mama Pilisani’s small nineties radio and the children laughed as Jonathan and K. taught the group new dances. The girls sang rhymes and clapped with each other and Xhosa and English words melted together fluidly as a relaxed air hit the group.



Jonathan and Mama Pilisani dancing before the celebration started

Actions & Observations

Relaxation was well-deserved especially as we spent the next hour with Golden and the children cleaning the trash in the yard. We wanted to leave the finished project looking well-cared for. After cleaning, we came back inside knowing that the women were just about ready to start. They had planned a nice farewell for us and had invited all of the Sizakuyenza staff. We pulled every chair they had around the kitchen table to fit every invitee and fell silent waiting for Mama Pilisani to speak.

She thanked everyone for coming and spoke about the change she had seen in the past eight weeks. She spoke with gratitude for the motivation we had instilled in the residents and staff. She sang a song that she promised pertained no matter where she traveled: “The more we get together the happier we’ll be. My friends are your friends and your friends are my friends…” The whole room sang along to the familiar tune as she repeated it. Next, S. spoke about the new skills she had learned and friendships she had made with us.

When it came to our time, we each spoke about what we learned, how happy we were to have had the experience, and how sad we were to leave. Each in our own way, we said our last formal words to our new family. We ate the massive plates of food, sharing laughs and taking pictures. Eventually, when the food was gone and time had passed, the crowd dispersed, with the staff hugging each of us or shaking hands on their way to the offices.

We heard the sound of children who had just gotten home from crèche, and we opened the back door to see a rewarding scene. For the first time, we saw the whole new playground being put to use. The children laughed and smiled, balancing on the newly painted posts and beams. Julia sat on a swing with two children while one little girl tried the tire ladder with Samantha. We played until we were exhausted, and Lance showed up with the bus.

Reluctantly, we stopped playing and went inside to retrieve our bags and start the goodbyes. We hugged each person tightly and exchanged final advice and “thank-you”s. A few tears were shed delicately and we took one last photo of the residents all together. We waved goodbye and were followed right to the bus by A. and K. who did not want to see us leave. Finally the door closed and we waved goodbye, exiting the gates of the Safe House for the last time.


A photograph taken out of the window as we left the gate for the last time


In the short time we have spent at the Safe House, we never expected to become so close with so many people. The staff inspired us to give our skills with a kind heart. The women encouraged us to cherish life and find inner strength. The children supplied true happiness through adversity. The connections we have made are ones we will never forget.


Seeing the Safe House for the last time was very emotional for us in many different ways. We all decided to reflect on our own to accurately portray the range and magnitudes of our experience.


All of the research and preparation in the world could not have prepared us for this day, the last day of fieldwork. Every IQP team (particularly from Cape Town) tells you how hard it is to say goodbye, but there is no grasping the feeling of explaining to a little girl that no, you won’t be back tomorrow, of hearing your community members say “thank you” and “goodbye,” of pulling away from your project site for the last time.

I remember when we first arrived at the safe house, feeling so incredibly unprepared. We had been doing preliminary research for months, yet I had never felt more like I had no idea what I was doing. Our team has accomplished so much since then, and I have learned more from my team and from the Sizakuyenza staff and residents than I could ever express. I’m glad I had the preparation that I did, but in some ways I could never have arrived truly ready for our time here. All I could bring was an open mind, a loving heart, and a willingness to learn and to work hard. “We sweat together,” as one resident said, and through sweating together, as cliché as it sounds, we became part of a family. I worked harder at Sizakuyenza than I can remember ever working in my entire life—but I also felt more fulfilled and motivated there than in any class or project I have been a part of.

They prepared a final lunch for us, sharing a meal to express their gratitude and to celebrate all that we accomplished together. All I could think about was the first time we shared a meal together, on our second day working at the safe house. We came so far and shared so much since then, but somehow the time went by so quickly. It felt like we went from our first meal together to our last far too quickly. Mama Pilisani, Andisiwe, and one of the residents shared how much our time there had meant to them. Each told us how thankful they were, how much we would be blessed for our giving, and all I could think about was that we are the lucky ones. We are the ones who should be thankful for this opportunity, because Sizakuyenza encouraged me and inspired me in more ways than I can count.

I do not think I’ve fully wrapped my mind around the idea that we’ve left for good—I think part of me still thinks that I am going back there on Monday, gearing up to tackle another project in the yard or to paint another room. Andisiwe told us that we brought a smile to their faces, even when we aren’t in Cape Town anymore. They have done the same for me—the joy that the residents and staff of the safe house have put in my life is something I hope to never forget.


Samantha with Andisiwe, Mama Pilisani, and Mama Gloria before saying goodbye


Everything in the world as we know it eventually comes to an end. Especially with something as structured as schooling, you know exactly when it will end. The final onsite day of 12 December, 2014 was known for quite some time, but when it arrived I still was not prepared. Preparing for seven weeks and being part of the organization for another seven made me so deeply immersed that the thought of not returning to Sizakuyenza seems far-fetched.

Saying goodbye is a strange concept to me. I have never been good at it, and I’ve never liked it. I find it an unnecessary step that makes people immediately begin missing each other. I would always rather to simply part ways and in the future, and if our paths cross again, reunite. My theory on this does not hold true for my time in the Safe House. Saying goodbye was a great opportunity. It was the first time we were all able to speak about what we appreciated, learned, and accomplished with all of the key players that were involved daily. It was more of a time to reflect, than to begin missing people so soon. I was able to share what I learned and appreciated about the residents and staff, and they were able to tell me from their perspective. The most interesting fact of all of this: we said the same things to each other. This was not a WPI project helping Sizakuyenza. This was two mutually beneficial groups pairing together to accomplish a common goal of advancing each other while completing projects that will help other people.

All of this made our final day an acknowledgment of success, not a goodbye.


Golden and Jacob saying goodbye.


Saying goodbye has been that lingering inevitable event I have dreaded for the past week. I feel like I have been accepted into a family for the past eight weeks that has changed me, and I am not prepared to leave. Mostly because this family is far from ordinary. It is made up of women who all have their own story, some which I know, others which are a mystery to me. No matter the story, I am amazed that they can still smile. Each are incredible workers, mothers, and friends. They have told me that they see strength in us that is inspiring, but I know the real beautiful resilience lays inside of them. We pray together, eat lunch together, and work together. But honestly, I feel like we have instead been healing and growing together. I can visibly watch their recovery as they regain confidence. We have watched two women from their arrival into the Safe House. They started off reserved and timid, and blossomed slowly into the vibrant women that they had been before the abuse.

For these reasons, I have been thinking of them as my family here for the past seven weeks. And today’s goodbye was not a “see you later”. It is understood that even if, miraculously, I find myself back in South Africa, these women will have moved all over the Cape in their healing process. Even as soon as February, the house would contain a whole new family. Next year, Mama Pilisani is retiring. This place as I know it will be changed forever.

However, today’s good-bye ceremony showed me that our team had made a change as well. The women are hopeful in the beauty and functionality of their yard and house. The staff has taken amazing initiative to maintain the features new and old, and the women want to pursue even more projects. As Andisiwe cried and hugged me, I remembered what she said. “You have made my job easier. Now they come into my office smiling”, and my eyes filled up with tears. K. came around the corner and exclaimed, “Your eyes shouldn’t cry!” and wrapped his thin arms around my knees. I bent down and hugged him tight. Getting in the bus, I knew I had said goodbye forever, but I felt surprisingly whole.


The experience I have gained from the IQP experience is one of a kind. The relationships I have formed with both my project partners and the staff and residents at the Safe House are so precious to me. Having to leave them behind and know that I will most likely never see them again is a hard thing to process. Saying goodbye to all the people at the Safe House was a hard experience for the whole group. I think it was a little easier for me as I went in as I had always kept in the back of my mind that I would be leaving these people. I do think that put a bit of distance in the relationships I formed and I do wish it hadn’t been that was but it was. Even with this thought in my mind it was really hard leaving, especially the kids which I had had so much fun playing with and making them smile. The children were some of the most easily pleased and happy little kids I have ever met and trying to explain to them that I would not be coming back was hard.

Overall I think leaving was one of the hardest parts of the project. Saying goodbye to people you have worked with for two straight months and grown so close to them makes it so hard leave them behind. The people here have made such a large impact in my life and they will never be forgotten.


Having to leave the residents today was one of the most challenging parts of this project. Once I was assigned to the project, I knew saying goodbye would be incredibly difficult. I like to think I have a decent amount of experience with service work, but this project was a step above what I was used to working with.

Our team was able to accomplish a lot of incredible things over the past seven weeks. This project differed from the typical service project because each of our accomplishments came as a direct result of the women and children’s involvement. We were working with these people, not for them. Their involvement and excitement made this project so much more real than I could have ever imagined. Seeing their faces light up with the completion of each new feature sparked a feeling in me I have never felt before. It was a feeling beyond mere satisfaction. It was much closer to the feeling I experience when I see my younger sister succeed. During these moments, it was most clear to me the people I was working with were much more than co-researchers, or coworkers, they were family.

I wanted to see them succeed on their own, so I tried to encourage them to take on their own tasks. I wanted them to realize they did not need my help. The entire purpose of this project was to show the women and children of the Sizakuyenza Safe House that they are capable of continuing to learn and grow on their own. After our last day of field work, I am more than proud to say that is a goal I feel we have no only accomplished, but superseded.