CAPE TOWN, South Africa — KWESU is a nonprofit organization empowering South African women. It is located in the informal settlement of Langa in Cape Town, South Africa and teaches impoverished women professional and life skills. The goal is to allow women to build and live off their own enterprises.
About KWESU’s Founder
Patricia Mudiayi, a refugee migrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, founded KWESU in 2011. The organization’s name means “home” and its mission is to stand and speak up for women struggling to find work in South African society. Mudiayi is no stranger to economic hardship. After seeking refuge in South Africa in 1998, she experienced poverty before becoming financially stable and independent.
Mudiayi says, “After living in South Africa as a refugee woman and undergoing all sorts of challenges as women; after seeing the lack of opportunity for me and fellow women, I decided to dedicate my life to creating opportunity for those women struggling in South Africa.” Her mission comes at a pivotal time in the South African economy as the rate of unemployment among women was 29.5 percent in 2018, compared to 25.3 percent in men.
Gender Disparity in the South African Workforce
The equal representation of females in the South African workforce is behind other country’s averages. In 2018, 43.8 percent of those employed were women, yet women held only 32 percent of the managerial positions. Additionally, women are more likely to do unpaid work than men. In 2018, women made up 55.2 percent of individuals involved in nonmarket activities.
In 2015, Mudiayi spoke at a TEDx talk at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. She recalls having to sit in the rain and cold at Cape Town’s Greenmarket Square. She was trying to sell and trade handmade items despite obtaining her chemical engineering qualifications back in her home country. She felt helpless because she was not making sales.
She gave her CV to several companies in the area but did not hear back from any of them. That is when she decided to work with the Scalabrini Centre, which helps migrants and refugees find work in the Western Cape. With the help of the center, she landed a job at the LEAP Science and Maths Schools, which work with students from informal settlements in Cape Town such as Langa, Khayelitsha and Gugulethu.
The Birth of KWESU
LEAP’s programs focus on children living in South Africa’s most marginalized communities. Mudiayi found value in investing her time and her life work into education, but after 11 years, experienced her own wake-up call. While working at the school, she was sitting in her office complaining about the cold. “In that moment I just remembered there were still people outside in the Greenmarket Square not knowing where to go or what to do.” She decided she wanted to help create opportunities for women who were in her situation 11 years prior.
She gathered a small group of women together, who would later become known as KWESU. Twenty-one women attended the first meeting. There, Mudiayi met an abused woman and she could see herself in her. She gave her some money but wanted to do more to help change her life. Mudiayi asked the women to sew linen for her for pay and began teaching other struggling women how to sew. This laid the foundation for her new organization. Mudiayi hopes KWESU will empower South African women to fulfill the following pillars:
- Support African women to live a life of dignity
- Heal social isolation by building community between women
- Create community between women to collaborate and provide support and companionship
- Help one another to integrate into South African society and thrive
What KWESU Offers
KWESU offers a 12-month sewing class that teaches students various skills such as knitting and crocheting. It also allows women to sew clothes for local schools in the area as well as design uniforms for hospitality and hotel industries. These items include curtains, linens, tablecloths and aprons. Once the students complete the course, KWESU provides them with their sewing certification and useful experience and knowledge that they can filter back into their communities later on.
In addition, KWESU offers skills training classes such as computer literacy. This helps women learn how to master key programs like Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, email, Internet browsing and managing effective social media platforms. Moreover, KWESU helps the outside community by making its own food and clothing donations to other areas of South Africa that are in need. It distributes donations it receives from other organizations to the homeless, orphanages and elderly populations to bridge poverty gaps in South Africa.
KWESU also works with other organizations that focus on empowering women through social development and skills training. It provides leadership workshops specifically tailored to the unique needs of female groups. These workshops target issues like individual strength, self-awareness and how to start small businesses.
Mudiayi credits her own personal success to the opportunities her fellow community members gave her in her times of trouble. Her goal is to give those same opportunities to communities of women who need them most and break the cycle of poverty. “KWESU’s objective is to empower African women. We believe that to educate a woman is to educate a nation.”
– Meredith Breda