Champion of women and girls' rights

22 July 2016 | Story by Newsroom
Master's student in clinical social work Kelebogile Simula is passionate about sexual and reproductive health and rights, education advocacy, and youth leadership.
Master's student in clinical social work Kelebogile Simula is passionate about sexual and reproductive health and rights, education advocacy, and youth leadership.

Kelebogile Simula (26) is a young leader and volunteer who is helping young people reach their highest potential. In her community, part of this journey is helping them to address prevalent issues such as trauma, child abuse, divorce and separation.

“Those are issues close to my heart so when I started my career I wanted to help people live a meaningful and functional life. There are a lot of dysfunctional families back home,” said Simula who has a bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Botswana and is in the home straight of a master's in clinical social work at UCT.

In 2014 she was appointed Global Youth Ambassador for Education in Botswana by the World at School Initiative, launched by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and UN Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown.

“As a Global Youth Ambassador I represent the voices of children and youths on education issues at high-level discussions around the world,” said Simula. “In this role I do a lot of education advocacy. I advocate for children to be given opportunities to go to school, regardless of their background or religion. Every child has that right.”

In 2014 she also joined the Young Women's Leadership Project on sexual and reproductive health. The project focuses on reproductive, maternal, new-born, child and adolescent health (RMNCAH, issues that affect women and girls' health and well-being.

“Young girls need to be able to talk freely about their sexuality; we shouldn't make it taboo. So it's very important that we educate them so they can make informed decisions.”

The past has no power over the present

Her own journey is an inspiration. Getting to university wasn't easy but she was driven by her aspirations to study.

“My parents weren't rich; I come from very humble beginnings. But it's important to have a dream. When you have a dream you'll have focus, and when you have focus, regardless of the challenges you face, your focus is what will take you places. For me it's not just about the opportunities, it's about how I use them to make an impact.”

UCT has opened many doors for her, she says.

“But I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for WK Kellogg Foundation funding. They gave me the opportunity to further my studies.”

She's been very active on campus, conducting campaigns and workshops on issues such as gender-based violence and learning more about feminist leadership and advocacy through the Young Women's Leadership Project.

Her interests are also reflected in her master's thesis. Working with the Knowledge Co-op, Simula is developing an evidence-based tool for screening foster mothers at Home from Home where she worked. Home from Home is a community based foster-care organisation for orphaned, abused, neglected and vulnerable children. She hopes to design a tool that can be used to screen foster mothers throughout South Africa.

Her thesis abstract was accepted for the 2016 World Joint Conference on Social Work, Education and Social Development where it was presented by her supervisor, Dr Johannes John-Langba.

Once she graduates in December Simula plans to return to Botswana. Giving back to the community is important to her

“There is a shortage in clinical social workers back home so I want to use my skills to address issues of trauma, gender based violence, and mental health problems”

She hopes to become a policymaker who will ensure that the voices of young people are heard in decision-making circles.

“I just want to make people aware of the importance of investing in a girl's education. When you invest in a girl's education you change the whole world. Those girls will go back to their families and communities, and use their education to bring about the necessary changes.” 

Improve your community

Coming to study at UCT has not been easy; it's taken hard work and resilience. But she wanted to be identified with a university she believes is world-class so that she is able to compete in her home country and internationally.

And her time here has taught her how to grab every opportunity. In 2015 she was selected as a Young Leader by the Women Deliver Organisation. This is a three-year fellowship where young leaders advocate for the health, rights and wellbeing of the world's women and girls. She recently returned from a global conference in Denmark, which aims to ensure that the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda delivers for women and girls

Reflecting on her own journey, Simula said: “I wanted to be an example to show other young people that your past does not define your destiny and that as long as you are focused it is possible to achieve anything you want in life.”

Story Chido Mbambe. Photo Michael Hammond.

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