“It’s all about comfort, even if I don’t know who is receiving the bag”

Twenty-year-old Khethiwe Sibanyoni is a second year Bachelor of Accounting Science student at Wits University. Sibanyoni has been spending her lockdown assisting victims of gender-based violence (GBV) through the donation of comfort bags.

“These bags make a difference and induce a sense of hope that is enough to make sure [survivors] do not doubt themselves, [letting them know] that there are people beyond the parameters of their relationship who care for them.”

The bags contain among other things, a face cloth, soap, body lotion, hairbrush, sanitary towels, toothbrush, underwear, a notebook and a pen and each one costs around R300 to make. Sibanyoni told Wits Vuvuzela that the bags give victims hope during a very difficult time of their lives.

Sibanyoni used her social media accounts to make a call for donations to help pay for the comfort bags. “I was encouraging people [to give] what they had, whether it was R50 or R100,” it mattered she said. People made electronic bank donations as Sibanyoni notes this was the only way to collect the funds, given the strict lockdown regulations.

“My family and I also contributed funds to the project, I also used some of my own money to pay for Instagram promotions, this helped the post reach a lot more people which ultimately meant more donations for the project,” said Sibanyoni.

Sibanyoni also received help from Epic Foundation which aims to provide support and empower survivors of rape and abuse. The foundation, which Sibanyoni has volunteered for since she was in high school, helped her identify areas where there was a great need for comfort bags.

Alta McMaster, the CEO and founder of Epic Foundation who is also a GBV survivor herself, told Wits Vuvuzela that there has been a significant rise in GBV cases during the lockdown. McMaster said, “there has been a massive increase in cases. You can imagine, in a normal situation where someone has an abuser in the home, that abuser used to go to work and give that person time to be on their own to report and reach out for help. But now they’ve been locked up with their abusers.”

“[The comfort bags] are so vital , you can imagine when someone arrives at a crisis centre, hospital or police station, they go through the whole process of getting the medical examination, having to give a statement and only [after that] they have that opportunity to clean-up.” McMaster said that the bags offer survivors, “their first step back to dignity,” after going through a traumatic experience.

Sibanyoni believes that while deceased victims of GBV should be remembered, it is equally important to recognise those who have survived the experience. “Let us not forget about the ones who have survived and let’s provide [them with] comfort from a distance, reassurance, love and let’s celebrate their survival.”

“She is really an example to others out there as she is always trying to reach out and help where she can,” said McMaster of Sibanyoni.

Sibanyoni’s first batch of comfort bags went to non-profit organisation Amcare in Alberton.

FEATURED IMAGE: Witsie Khetiwe Sibanyoni at Amcare to deliver comfort bags. Photo:Provided