New haven for victimised women

Gary and Shelly Koekemoer at the site of their new haven for abused women Picture: Supplied
Gary and Shelly Koekemoer at the site of their new haven for abused women
Picture: Supplied

Bigger premises for Bet Sheekoom Centre will see nearly double present number accommodated

The tough task of turning away up to eight abused or victimised women every week was the impetus behind a Port Elizabeth couple’s search for new premises.

The Bet Sheekoom Centre in Forest Hill can accommodate 14 women, but when Gary and Shelly Koekemoer open their new premises in Colleen Glen they will be able to take in almost double that.

Bet Sheekoom started 16 years ago after an early morning drive along Govan Mbeki Avenue.

Gary said: “We were driving along at about 2am and we saw these [girls] who looked as young as 14.

“We tried to find somebody to help them but could not find anybody.

“We then started to go out on the streets, talking to them, finding out what they needed and what their aspirations and ambitions were.”

In less than a month, the couple had taken two girls off the streets and invited them into their home.

After the completion of phase one of the new Colleen Glen centre, 25 women will be accommodated at any given time.

Through counselling and skills training, the non-profit organisation helps women to be self-sufficient, while concentrating on self worth.

Project manager, qualified nurse and full-time counsellor Shelly said she was excited about the expansion – a plan that has been brewing for more than five years.

“We have been wanting to expand for a long time now, there is such a great need,” Shelley said.

“Many women are destitute. We turn them away simply because we cannot accommodate them.

“It is a great concern to us that we have to turn away five to eight women every week

“It is unsettling when you think that they could become part of the statistic of women who are killed by their partners.”

She said the new premises would also be home to a creche to accommodate children while their mothers went through the various motions to restoration.

While phase one helps abused women by giving them a place to stay when they are at their most vulnerable, a second phase is also being planned.

Phase two will be a secondary home for women who have been helped back on their feet, through skills development or finding jobs, but who still require a support structure until they become completely self-sufficient.

The couple have secured a 10-year lease on a plot of municipal land and have also been able to raise a third of the R1.8-million needed to complete phase one.

Fundraising will continue as each phase of the project is completed.

Gary said he believed the project, which last year won the Forgood Inspiration Awards in East London, was so necessary because of a variety of socioeconomic factors.

“In the province the unemployment rate has increased, moral standards [have decreased] and the availability of drugs on the streets and the low conviction rate [for the abuse of women] are contributing factors,” he said.

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