As we come to the end of women’s month, we reflect on why this month is so detrimental for all women and girls. We celebrated and honored our women and girls throughout this month because of how far we have come to fight for our rights. This year has been difficult as we are still in a global pandemic and have experienced much trauma and loss. Especially women and girls who have to experience more than one pandemic, enough to make one give up hope and become discouraged. In moments like these, we look to those who still shine their light, at BRAVE we are inspired by the incredible women who have defeated all odds.
Today I want to shine my light on the awe-inspiring 21-year-old, Muchelene Peplouw from Manenberg and recent graduate. Muchelene has obtained a BA in Geography from the University of Western Cape. She is an activist for the youth and a voice for her community as she actively speaks out about “changing the narrative” and “breaking generational curses”. I had an opportunity to sit down with her and reflect on her academic and personal success.
Muchelene is a force to be reckoned with for multiple reasons. One of them being the fact that she grew up in Manenberg and as I too grew up in this community I completely understand the harsh reality of such a living environment. Manenberg is a community that experiences extreme acts of gang violence, poverty, and gender-based violence. Completing School and still being alive is the biggest achievement. A place like this can mentally and physically exhaust you. I asked Muchelene who her biggest influence was and she stated “my community”. Muchelene repeatedly emphasizes the positive impact the community has on her life, she exclaims “it played a huge role as it was a constant reminder of how far we have come, how far we need to go and the change that needs to be made.
This statement is indeed true; she comes from a background where none of her immediate family completed school or could even comprehend the thought of Varsity. This means that no one laid a foundation, in this regard, so she created her own and that is the hardest part for young women with no generational wealth or connections. She talks about how supportive people were “if it was not for my community I might not have come this far, my challenges have pushed me to work hard and it has allowed me to grow”. However, as much of an impact it had, one must recognize that suffering and growing up in these circumstances is not natural, but an example of the systems that were put in place to prevent people of colour from succeeding in life.
Her humility is inspiring as she continues to include her community. It was extremely difficult for her as she was dealing with exams amid the constant rivalry of gangs and the mere fact that she had to navigate the academic world on her own. She persevered and kept pushing through continuously performing well in school and shaping a better future by making the necessary goals to achieve.
As a young person who also attended school in Manenberg, I can testify that it is a challenge to get to school as it is unsafe during periods of gang violence. Students need to seek hiding as many have lost their lives on their way to school and most importantly to even concentrate as the living situations are so crowded that there is always surrounding noise. She reflected on how difficult it was to study as she lived in the flats containing two blocks of 48 houses and they are very close together. She further explains just how difficult it was studying for exams as she lived on the corner of the court, her house outside has no fence equalling zero separation from the outside. This allowed many people to sit outside and she could hear the noise inside as they gambled or were fighting. The only time there was any kind of peace was at night between 12 – 5 am and yet there were still disruptions coming from the night dwellers outside.
This causes a lot of frustration and really can take a toll on your mental-emotional wellbeing. Muchelene’s grace shines throughout, this is evident through her passion for her choice of study and the work she does fighting for social justice. She stated that “People are always going to try to choose your path for you, but you have to follow your heart and choose what is best for you”. I asked her if she always knew that she wanted to achieve this particular degree and her response was amazing. She said, “No, when I was done with high school I did not know what my next step was and decided to get a job. One day I ran into a boy from my old school and he says to me why are you working in retail he thought that someone who did as well as I had would achieve more”. She says that was a pushing point for her because he made her realize that she had put her dreams aside and she wanted more for herself.
In a world where a young woman should enjoy her youth and be able to access spaces. I am filled with sadness and frustration because all women deserve softness in this world. Many children of colour are robbed of their youth and given adult responsibilities earlier, like having to search for money like Muchelene to get an education in a democratic country. This is one of the reasons she wants to invest in her community. How can someone with nothing miraculously help themselves. She repeatedly seeks opportunities to include the youth and has fought for her seat at every table, nothing was handed to her.
She fought for a place at school by performing well in school both academically and socially and this unknowingly allowed her to get into university. Getting finance is quite difficult but she knocked on every door and consistently asked for help using every opportunity. Her consistency helped her transition smoothly from high school to university and she excels in university.
As a young woman myself who also studies and comes from Manenberg, I empathize with Muchelene because I know what it feels like when you’re standing and you feel like you have the whole world on your shoulders and you need to lift it yourself. We come with the difficulties of being young women, experiencing many obstacles because of our intersectionality. Living in Manenberg experiencing gang violence, studying, and trying to be an advocate for the youth and most importantly taking care of your mental health – these are just some of the challenges Muchelene battled but still, she manages to rise to the top.
It truly is encouraging as the girls at BRAVE too are experiencing the same hardships and Muchelene is evidence that you can do it all. She spoke about “breaking the generational curse of women in her family not graduating high school”. Muchelene decided it stops with her, she is determined to be a role model for her younger cousin in matric.
I am thankful because I am not alone and I believe in Muchelene’s power to change the narrative as she has proven to do so this far. I asked about her plans, Muchelene says without hesitation “I want to finish my honours and move to my masters and get my PhD. because I believe that I will become Dr. Peplouw and I want to see that”. Muchelene is the embodiment of being true to yourself and following your dreams. Thank you for being everything little girls strive to become. You are BRAVE and truly limitless as you reach for bigger and greater life opportunities and most importantly you deserve softness in this world.
by Miche Williams, BRAVE Rock Girl Senior Leader