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An interview with the wonderful Ntutu Mtwana in Cape Town

Today I was very fortunate to be able to interview Ntutu Mtwana, an inspirational lady who is a safety and volunteer coordinator in charge of the community / neighbourhood watch patrollers in Monwabisi Park, a Township in Cape Town.

Photo of Tom Hulme
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Ntutu works for VPUU and had many fascinating insights to share. The project, in the Khayelitsha township of Cape Town, uses social engagement and town planning as tools in fighting crime. The aim is to improve the living conditions for residents. A series of "active boxes" - tall towers doubling as safe houses and community patrol bases - are being built along the main pedestrian routes to and from stations and taxi ranks (see image in gallery above). They will be open 24 hours a day to allow unquestioned access by anyone who feels threatened.
Community “sub-centres” are being planned and built, including businesses, that create employment opportunities, and open, public places and schools for sports and recreation. Residents will be involved in upgrading their areas. A Social Development Fund will be used to upgrade the general environment, such as street lights and sidewalks. Regular organized cultural and social events are planned to contribute to a sense of community and togetherness.
I’d encourage you to view the video above as I could never do her and the project justice but in case you can’t here are some of the  key learnings for me:
  1. Any social change requires real effort
  2. The primary motivations for the ladies to participate is improving their home and job prospects, eg getting training and a driver’s license, they choose not to pay them to make sure that theyre committed
  3. They used focus groups to choose where to pilot first (see community map in image gallery above)
  4. Solutions need to be holistic but are dependent on growing pride in the community (or solutions will not last)
  5. This is linked to giving the communities dignity, whether from introducing house numbering or simply planting nice flowers
  6. Strength comes from community rather than individuals
  7. They recruit from the community as the volunteers then have the convening power
  8. Women can make a huge difference themselves but they need to be supported with childcare – VPUU colocates crèches with centres 

I asked what  words of advice Ntutu would have for those embarking on similar projects in Asia:
  • Nurture your environment, combine small things to create real change
  • Physical and social development is needed - beauty of streets and houses are meaningless without beauty of heart
  • Together you can make it, nothing is impossible

What did I miss? What did you learn from Ntutu?

How might her and VPUU's approach be adapted for the local context in different Asian informal settlements?

And check out my further interviews with 2 community patrollers with VPUU


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anuja Singhal

Thanks for sharing this, Tom. It's quite an initiative and I agree that a strong community makes a safe environment. There has been some discussions on some inspirations posted earlier about how we can inculcate the idea of responsibility and respect for women by directing our solutions towards men. There are also discussions about mapping systems that could direct people (women) to 'safe' houses in the area at trouble times and these safe houses, in the process are already a part of a strong community that respects women. The process of finding these safe havens in distressed areas itself can be a hint towards whether or not the community is strong and is capable & interested in developing their neighbourhoods into safe environments for women. This may be a bit more challenging in Asian informal settings, in which case 'creating' such spaces instead of locating them can be a way to go - a place where concerned citizens of the area can come together and work on ideas to make the neighbourhood safe., perhaps. This is a great inspiration considering it targeted places such as Harare, where certain high density areas pose a real threat to women's safety. However, Harare does have a decently good infrastructure and less population as compared to many Asian areas.

Photo of Luisa Fernanda

Tom and Anuja,
Wonderful insights. It's very interesting to see emerging patterns between vpuu's work and that of some of the organizations we have been meeting with in Delhi and khatmandu. Creating livelihoods for women is a huge necessity for social mobility and empowerment. Organizations like Azad, FAT and YP in Delhi and home net in khatmandu spend a lot of time getting to know communities and individuals , understand their needs and develop initiatives that serve as vehicles to create access to information, empowerment and teach skills that allow women to receive income. The places where these initiatives take place have become safe spaces on their own.
Anuja you bring up an interesting point about locating potential safe spaces for women. While we talked to a group of women in Kathmandu yesterday we asked where they went to feel safe and they said they only feel safe at home. Finding existing spaces and re appropriating them to become safe spaces for women seems to be a great opportunity area as we move into the ideas phase , especially for highly dense Asian cities. We have found out that even if women don't have a safe space to meet they go to each other's houses and feel a strong sense of community. Even in Delhi we spoke with women in informal settlements and they mention that their communities made them feel safe.

Photo of Luisa Fernanda

What we haven't seen so far is organizations and/ or communities intervening directly in the urban landscape. As we go out to the field today I will ask how women, girls and NGOs staff feel about this. We have heard of the need for it and it's inspiring to hear Ntutu's drive and success.

Photo of Karoline K

Awesome Luisa, I'm excited to hear how the folks on your side of the world feel about it

Photo of Luisa Fernanda

While talking to women and organizations working with women's safety in Kathmandu I have realized that:
1) There aren't (or at-least we didn't come across) communities actively guarding their neighborhoods like Vpuu's initiative
2) Om Thapaliya from the org HomeNet, said that community organization and vigilance was a great step forward from programs his org has implemented such as community and police participatory mapping of safe areas in the city
3) While talking with youth leaders from the Family Planning Association in Nepal, young women explained that they actively empower other women and raise awareness about women's health and rights within their community. They are raising awareness and creating empowerment amongst their peers at school and community members, which is analogous to the protection of the physical environment that the VPUU group offers.

In conclusion, there is an amazing potential to share initiatives happening in cities across the world so that organizations like Om's and young women like the group we met can be inspired to take current efforts forward and adapt them to the work they are already doing and the necessities of their environment

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