Elizabeth Olyn – South Africa

Date: November 2, 2015
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“I feel like I am starting over again and this time I will definitely win”

My first encounter with Gender Links was last year in 2014. I was informed by the Municipality that there would be a workshop hosted by the council and facilitated by Gender Links (GL). I was very reluctant to attend this however I was informed that it would involve business management and skills development.

I attended the first workshop which was the “I” stories workshop and it took place in May 2014. When I attended the workshop I was not sure what to expect, however I felt that I owed it to myself to see it through. That workshop was very hard and very painful; it forced me to deal with a lot of issues that I had been dealing with for a very long time around the abuse by my husband. My husband was not always an abusive person, he used to be very supportive and also was good to my children and I. We have four kids together and we were very close.

I am not even sure how the issue of the abuse started, but I think when we relocated to Matzikama from our previous location he was hoping that things would be better this side economically. However when we got this side the firm that he had been working for started to retrench people and that is when I think he started drinking heavily. I am not originally from this part of town. My husband and I met a long time ago; he is a Tswana man from Botswana. He came to South Africa in the 70’s and we met in Cape Town shortly after that, we were in love and it was all good for a while, but there were signs of his short temper even when I was pregnant with our first child. However I was also very quick to dismiss his behaviour and just thought that the stress of the unborn baby was adding to the issues.

I have always had a passion for business. I used to work in the factories in Cape Town as a seamstress, but I always loved the idea of having my own business and earning income on the side. I started baking and making take away food on weekends, I would sell my food to friends and neighbours but sometimes my husband would bully me and take the profits I made. This was very hard for me as I was also expecting another baby at this time but I never stopped my business and would still continue to make my food and takeaways. However the abuse continued and became more frequent. I continued to have this desire inside of me to grow my business despite all the issues I faced with my personal problems. I was determined to have my life in order and I also enrolled for ABET classes. I was strongminded about finishing my matric and getting that certificate, unfortunately I never finished school as I had to go and work in the factories from an early age. I got my matric eventually even though it was hard. Last year when I finished the “I” story training with Juliana I went home and reflected on what has been happening in my life.

The “I” stories session made me think about a few things in my life. I also realised that I had been running away from dealing with the truth for a very long time. The abuse I had suffered all these years from my husband really came up and I had to deal with the pain. The abuse was never physical but it was always very emotional, I was called ugly names and also just made to feel like I was nothing. My self-esteem was also very low, and my husband made me stop working, he told me to stay home and look after the kids. I lost myself, and I started to depend on him for everything, he would get paid every fortnight but he would not give me money to buy food. I would always have to beg him to give me money, and when he gave me money I would need to stay within the budget. If I went over the budget even by R1.00 he would be so upset and he would start shouting at me all the time. Things were bad and even at home I was always afraid of what would happen.

There was one event that made me realise that I needed to do something about my life. I remember one year in December just before the festive season my husband got paid his bonus and he never gave me a dime. He drank all the money and went with his friends on a drinking spree, that Christmas there was nothing in the house it was empty. There was no food or new clothes for my children. That is when I decided I would never allow this abuse to happen to me again, I started making food and then selling my baked and cooked food to my neighbours.

The GL training happened in my life at a stage when I needed it the most, when I got home after the “I” stories workshop I started to think about the next steps in my life and my progress. The GL training commenced with the Phase 1 training. This is when Juliana taught us how to develop our business plans and to think of formalising our businesses. I had never seen myself as a businesswoman even thinking of having a business plan. We also developed a personal development plan. This plan showed me that I have the potential to do so much more with my life. I had never even used a computer before in my whole life. When Juliana helped us with IT training I was nervous at first, but then I became fine after a while and grew confident. I am still far from perfect, but now I have a Facebook profile, I also have an email address. My kids were so shocked when they got a friend request from me, it was so nice. My kids told me how proud they are of me because I feel ok using a laptop. It was so good to hear them tell me that they are proud of me, as their mother.

The training that I have had with Gender Links has taught me a few things. I started to realise that I did not need to have the approval of my husband all the time, I have started to become more confident in myself. I also realised that my environment at home has changed and my children are proud of the person that I have become. This year I won the Best Existing Business Award at the South Africa national summit. I ended up attending the regional summit in Botswana. When I attended the summit it was an experience that I will never forget. I think it was the platform that showed me how much I was capable of achieving. At the moment I know that my life has been transformed. I am able to stand up for myself even though my business is not at the level that I wanted it to be by now. I do have a desire to grow my business and also make sure that I make my business grow, I just need seed money and capital. I am also doing a few odd jobs picking grapes and fruit on the farms during the October to December season and this money often helps me to buy groceries for my family and to save money for the festive season.

I did not think that something like this could ever happen to me. Sometimes we think that we as women do not deserve good things. However I have realised that I too deserve to have the best, and also have good things in my life. I look forward to the next chapter of my life and certainly know that great prospects lie ahead for me. In 2030 I will be an old granny, hopefully by then my business would have grown, and be in good shape. However I am not that worried, I know that whatever the outcome I just want to be in a happy place and also feel better about my life.


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