Joana Baleng – South Africa

Joana Baleng – South Africa

Date: October 29, 2015
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From a street child to a domestic worker and from there to a driver, from a driver to a now successful business owner and community mentor who encourages others. The story of a woman who overcame painful circumstances and come out strong.

“The Gender Links (GL) training was the first time I was able to connect with women who had a story similar to mine. One filled with pain and shame. At the end of the workshop, the pain and shame turned into empowerment. A desire to overcome all obstacles.”

The most memorable experience with GL and Mossel Bay Council was getting ready for the entrepreneurship awards in 2013, having already started the business, Joana Baleng thought doing a business plan and the PowerPoint presentations would be an easy task. However as the days drew nearer cold feet began to overwhelm her years of sweat and hustling. The Gender Focal Person (GFP) in in her municipality was extremely helpful in calming her nerves. The support from GL Governance Manager Ntombi Mbadhlanyana was also incredible, encouragement was provided to Baleng. “I had low self-esteem after the childhood rape by my half-brother, the GL workshop was my first time talking of the rape and I was free emotionally which then opened up freedom in other areas of my life.” In the past Baleng would feel shame when there was talk about rape, she did not want to say anything. Baleng is a driver of change in that she managed to overcome the obstacles in her private life and took it to the community level.

She is involved with ‘Heart to Heart’ charity which works with different economic development projects. Baleng manages one of the centres with 45 women in total that she deals with. Drawing from her own personal experience she is able to assist the women within Heart to Heart. Heart to Heart provides a holistic approach to fight against HIV and AIDS, TB and poverty by implementing dynamic initiatives, including education and support structures to empower people to restore hope, and encourage behaviour change that will result in good quality of both health and life. It is through this association that Baleng managed to grow the tyre project into a lucrative business. The municipality also assisted with funding and linking Baleng to necessary partners. From the streets of Louis Trichardt town in Limpopo province, she has managed to assist the women to move on from lives of rape, abuse and homelessness. The light bulb moment was the realisation about how to deal with challenging and seemingly depressing situations.

The experience in phase two of the entrepreneurship training with GL gave Baleng an understanding of her past and where she had come from. She had always been a hard working woman, to whom life had not handed down opportunities easily. Having also emerged as a rape victim, which caused her to leave home and become homeless for a period in her life. The opportunity to then get employment, go back to school and then finally get emotional understanding of her past came through a series of experiences and workshops, such as the training provided by GL, put many things in perspective. Though not everything can be attributed to GL, the platform to speak in public and write a business plan was one that grew Baleng’s confidence in the business arena. The change in Baleng’s life has enabled her to reconcile with family following years of non-communication. After the rape no one in her family had supported her which was why she had run away, however, today she has mended relationships with her siblings and parents.

When Baleng moved to the western province she was working in a bed and breakfast were she managed to also become a driver for the company. Among the duties was tyre collection freelance enterprise, in which she would drive to neighbouring cities to collect tyres and resell them. This would give her extra money, about R1200 extra income per month. That was her first encounter with the idea of recycling tyres and this led to Baleng working at a land fill. There Baleng began to save and started managing her business which required making some savings for the tot liner who then collected and delivered the tyres to the necessary buyers.

On the individual level we did not manage to speak to family or friends, however Baleng says her children are direct beneficiaries of her success. They enjoy seeing their mom provide for them in such a strong manner. Baleng’s younger sister also works in the business assisting, unfortunately on the interview day we were not able to meet with her and talk.

Baleng’s line of work is male dominated and yet Baleng manages to work hard and thus in line with the 50/50 campaign she can challenge and stand strong as she does all the work that they can do and so she is confident. Future plans are to continue with business and move on to the production of furniture with her tyres. Already she has partnered with other companies who take the tyres and produce other recycled products. If Baleng’s business was a one stop shop she would be able to make a bigger impact in the community. A current educational project Baleng is involved in is a school project in which she goes to the local schools and educates them on the use of used and old tyres. The growing generation will be aware and conscious of recycling from a young age and will see the benefits of recycling as opposed to waste. The recycle business grew out of a passion to clean up the used and dumped tyres in the townships. A passion she hopes to see in the youth and leaders of tomorrow.

The challenges, as with anything else, have been the financial limitations in terms of building up the business. However, as someone who overcame several obstacles in life there is a determination that once “I put my mind to something nothing will prevent me and patience requires getting all the ducks in a row and succeeding well”. I do have a dream and without education or money I did well, I sat down and saw things differently.


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