Quick fire 5:
1. Coffee, black or with milk?
2. Most used emoji?
3. If you could invite any 3 people to dinner for the night, who would you invite?
- Steve Biko: I think it would be really interesting to have him especially now with where we are in our society
- Aretha Franklin: would love to do a duet with her just to spice it up
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
4. If you could only eat 1 food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
5. If there was a movie made about your life, which actress would you choose to play you?
Alicia Keys (I know she dabbles in acting), but if I really wanted an outstanding performance, I would go with Halle Berry
Could you tell me a bit about your life right now?
Right now, life as ‘Dani’, is crazy due to the pandemic. I am married, with a husband who works in the finance world, so he is very busy at the moment and we have 2 little boys who are 5 and 3. They are very energetic and mischievous so I have to keep my eye on them all the time!
I am also the Director of ‘Arise’, an NGO based in the Heideveld community in the Cape Flats, Cape Town. Arise aims to strengthen family units through various programmes. We work with both children and parents/caregivers to counsel, strengthen, and equip families so that they can be a place where children feel safe, loved, and find a sense of belonging. My role, as Director, is to ensure that our organization keeps running and that it’s run well. I also have to be able to adapt to a lot of what’s happening in the world.
A lot of the work that we do with families in the community, is naturally conducted within face-to-face, group settings. Due to COVID-19, we obviously have not been able to do this and so we’ve had to adapt quickly and find new ways to continue meeting the needs of and strengthening the families that we serve. What we’ve done is, we’ve started making up and distributing food parcels to some of the families that are in need. We also started having WhatsApp video calls and sending voice notes to the families, to encourage them and continue the conversation on positive and gentle parenting- something that has been a big adjustment for the people in our communities to make.
Our most recent project that we’re running with, is one called ‘Our Family Strengthening Kit’. We have complied boxes which include simple, practical things that parents & caregivers can do with their children during the lockdown. Each box focuses on 5 key areas of parenting/family life. They include topics like how to cope with big emotions that are happening within your home and with your children (of various ages) and how to be self-aware of your own emotions as a parent/caregiver too. We also include fun games for caregivers to play with their children, even if it’s just Snakes & Ladders. They can use these games as a tool to ask their children questions like, “Tell me one thing that makes you happy when you go up a ladder, and one thing that makes you sad when you go down a snake.”. The boxes also focus on family time. We try to incorporate this by including something we call a ‘date stick.’ These ‘date sticks’ give the caregivers fun ideas for ways in which they can spend time together as a family. For example, having a karaoke night or an at-home dance party. The boxes also include ways in which the parents/caregivers can go about having the ‘hard’ conversations with their children. Conversations around death, sex, HIV and various other ‘big’ topics. We have also tried to hone in on topics like discipline, which has been especially difficult to manage with everyone living on top of each other during lockdown.
I am also doing some consulting work for private schools in the area, that are going through a lot of race dynamics with everything going on in our country (and the world) at the moment.
What gets you up in the morning?
I’d have to say that working with people gets me up in the morning. Also, seeing the change and knowing that it’s possible to make a change in someone’s life even if it’s small. I still work on-the-ground with a lot of the people in the community (I think partly due to my background in social work). I am not just a distant director who never engages with the people we serve. Hearing their stories and knowing that there is hope, really makes me get out of bed in the morning and drives me to work within the community. Within every sphere of Arise, it’s amazing to see families and parents having a deeper relationship with their children and enjoying their children. That’s what really helps children to thrive and that’s my biggest motivator!
Could you tell me a little bit about what your life was like growing up?
I grew up in Athlone, in the Cape Flats and I was raised in a single parent home – my parents were divorced. I had a really hard and tough childhood, in terms of my relationship with my father. My father really struggled with alcohol abuse, so it was extremely difficult to have a relationship with him. It got to a point where, by the time I was 14 years old, I had to make a decision to stop going there on weekends. It was just really hard to connect with him and have a normal relationship and I knew that it was having a negative impact on me and the friends that I was making and the decisions I was making at the time. So at 14 years old, I sat down with my dad and told him how I felt and that I was very angry with him and the decisions that he made and told him that I couldn’t see him until he decided to change. That was a really hard conversation. Obviously, there were lots of tears and it was very heartbreaking at the time. I really struggled to understand the concept of a loving father, because it didn’t feel like I had a loving father. I grappled a lot internally to come to terms with not having the family that I really wanted and needed and not having the relationship with my dad that I needed.
Growing up, I was constantly trying to find out who I was and who God had called me to be in this world. That was my biggest question when I was a teenager. Once I matriculated, I didn’t quite feel like I had the answer yet, so I decided to go to the USA for 2 years to be an au pair. I travelled a bunch and met a whole lot of new people and made really good friends.
When I got back, I decided I wanted to study and applied to do Social Work, Law or PPE (Philosophy, Politics & Economics). I went to one Social Work class and it changed my world. I said, “This is what I have to do!”. From there, my passion just grew into wanting to know how I could empower people in our country. Especially knowing what my family went through during Apartheid and how they worked really hard and fought for justice in our country, it spurred me on to want to do the same kind of thing.
What dreams did you have when you were younger?
As a young person, I was exposed to so much. I really believed I could do anything! The problem was really picking what it was that I wanted to do. For a long time, I wanted to become a pediatrician because I always knew I wanted to work with children. Then I did biology in high school and quickly realized that being a doctor was not in my scope of field.
One school holiday when I was staying with my gran, we watched a documentary about child soldiers in the DRC and I thought, “That’s what I am going to do! I am going to work with child soldiers in the DRC!”. I also dabbled with maybe becoming a teacher and then an actress (because I did some drama back in the day). I had dreams of becoming anything that I loved in certain parts of my life as I was growing up.
During my 2 year ‘gap year’ in the US, I visited different universities there and spoke to different people that I knew and realized that I was just drawn to Social Work and what that could do for the world. Needless to say, I never looked back.
How has the way your life has panned out so far differed or been similar to those dreams?
I think young people often want to have a goal and then achieve it and then they think that in doing so, it will make them happy. That is not my story. I graduated from Social Work, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and went straight into statutory work in Lavender Hill and Grassy Park. I was going into communities where people had knives and guns and I didn’t have the police backing me up. People think that when you remove a child from a dangerous setting you have police there to protect you. That is not the case- you are on your own! I was removing children from their homes, going to court, placing them, and repeating that cycle day after day. It was probably one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever done! It was heartbreaking because I saw how our Child-Welfare system was not working for our kids.
I only lasted there for 8 months. It was a very difficult decision for me to resign, but I just didn’t feel like I was making the impact that I wanted to make. I did a lot of wrestling internally- feeling torn between how this was what I thought I wanted to do, yet how it had turned out to be so hard and what felt like a completely impossible task.
After I resigned, I decided to have a meeting with the Minister of Social Development. I wanted to tell him why I had resigned so quickly and to let him know how I felt about the system. I was young and passionate and I should have lasted a long time in my first job- I wanted him to know that the system was clearly not working and that the kids were hurting and being abused and then re-abused. He responded by telling me that I needed to grow up and that this was the real world. I remember looking at him with tears in my eyes and saying, “I will prove you wrong! This is not the way to do it.”. I walked out of his office feeling completely defeated.
I then moved on to work in Khayelitsha for a while doing after school programmes. I walked into this job very hopeful thinking that everyone in the NGO space would be joining hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’ and helping each other out. Again, this wasn’t my experience and I realized there was a lot of toxicity within the NGO space. I decided to leave this job too and take time to re-figure out what I really wanted to do.
I made a decision to go back and study an honours and then a masters in Social Policy and Management. With that, I wanted to go into the corporate world and so I began working for a consulting firm. Again, I realized it wasn’t for me because of how hard it was to be a woman in that space. In the consulting space, in Cape Town especially, it’s very much a white middle-aged man’s world. I was often made to feel that my opinion didn’t really matter.
So, I began doing ministry with my husband in the Heidefeld area, which got me thinking about how amazing it would be to have an organization there. An organization where we could expand the work we were already doing with the children and the families in the church. That’s when and how I found out about Arise. I took the plunge and emailed them to let them know I was keen to be involved in what they were doing and soon after that, the Director at the time asked me to join the team. Since joining Arise, I’ve just seen how my passion has grown and flourished.
Even though you often start out thinking you have a goal you want to achieve, life and certain experiences can change that. I always tell young people that change doesn’t equal failure, it just means you’ve learnt something. Sometimes jobs or experiences are just for a certain season in your life. It’s how you take those lessons learned and the skills you have acquired and then apply them to where you find yourself. All of my experiences have helped me and continue to help me to become the very best director and leader that I can be.
Who was your role model growing up why?
Every time people ask me who my role model was, I always say that it was different people that entered my life at different times of my life. People who have particularly been my role models though, are definitely my grandmother and my mother. I think seeing them embrace and overcome such difficult times in their lives and seeing how they’ve done that with dignity while staying true to themselves, has really inspired me to do the same. Being savvy and also being a woman of integrity, are the kinds of values that I have learnt from my grandmother (who has now passed away) and my mom (who is my rock). Sometimes they think I am crazy, but I feel like I have the freedom to take risks and make some ‘crazy’ decisions at times, because I know I have them, as my rocks, behind me.
Has education played a positive role in your life and if so, how?
Education has definitely played a big part in my life. Coming from a single-parent home, with a mother who worked really hard to send me to a private school, I am privileged to have gotten the education that I did. It did have its challenges though- being a person of colour, entering such affluent spaces wasn’t always easy and was something I had to navigate. One of the things that helped me was realizing that the schooling system that I was a part of, helped me to think critically. It also provided me with incredible teachers who helped to push me when I got lazy and defaulted on my photographic memory.
My time at university was critical. It wasn’t just the time spent in the lecture rooms, it was meeting a diverse bunch of people who really just egged me on to become the person I am today. I met people from all over the world at varsity, from all over Africa. The conversations we had in the classroom were pivotal to my learning and re-learning and thinking differently about life.
What are you still hoping to accomplish in the next couple of years?
In terms of work, I definitely want to see Arise grow. I really want to see people understand the concept of family strengthening and the importance of it. I think family break-down is the root cause of many of the societal issues in our country. We can’t just keep putting a Band Aid on the issue. We really need to get to the root of it. So, I would love to see Arise grow in that sphere. I’d especially love to see our training programmes grow, where we train and and consult other organizations. That is the biggest project on my mind at the moment.
I think personally, I’d love to grow in more patience with my children. To continue to develop a deeper relationship with them and to grow with them. My oldest starts school next year, which is a big step. I just hope I can adapt as well in my personal life as I do in my professional life.
I also want to become more of a handy woman. I love fixing things around the house. I am collecting a toolkit at the moment and I’m hoping my tools can grow over the years and that I will actually be able to make my own furniture one day.
How do you use your current platform to create a positive influence in the young people of SA?
Being the Director of Arise is really not just a job for me, it is a calling. I feel passionate about the way in which we serve our communities. I want the way that people in Bishops Court are served, to be the same way that our children and families in Heideveld are served too. That’s really something I love to convey to all NGOs. Yes, as NGOs we ask for money, but people who are served by us also need to be served as if they are from Claremont or any other affluent community.
What piece of advice would you give to the young women of South Africa?
People are going to put you down in this world and people are going to say negative things. We have to learn to rise above that and know who we are and stay true to ourselves. That is really, really important! I think integrity and authenticity are key to making a success of your life. When people say bad things about you or to you, it’s the way in which you walk away from that and rise above it- and it is doable! Finding someone or a group of people who can support you through those challenges, is also key as women. We need our support system and finding other strong women to support you, is vital.
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