Bontas aunty takes peace abroad

Soraya Salie paid tribute to her sister, Latiefa Sampson, left, and her mother's friend, Shariefa Lagkar, at her surprise farewell breakfast organised by the club.

Bonteheuwel’s Soraya Salie was one of four community organisation representatives of Cape Town who attended the commemoration of the second World Alliance of Religions’ Peace Summit (WARP) in Seoul, South Korea.

The three-day summit, which ended on Monday September 19, brought together people from 120 countries to be part of various meetings to implement the Declaration of Peace and Cessation of War (DPCW) – an event hosted by an international organisation called Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL).

Ms Salie joined the Queen Mother, Semane Molotlegi of the Royal Bafokeng nation, Malawian minister of justice and constitutional affairs, Samuel Tembenu, and Zimbabwean Chief Justice, Godfrey Guwa Chidyausiku, among others, as part of the 1 000-strong Southern African delegation.

She was selected to be part of this international event because of her organisation, the Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies’ relationship with the International Women’s Peace Group (IWPG), a sister organisation of HWPL. Ms Salie was expected to speak about the ongoing gang war in her community and the negative effects it has on residents.

Ms Salie and her organisation have been at the forefront of promoting peace and often speak out against abuse, even being part of the One Billion Rising campaign – a worldwide creative dance protest against women abuse.

The Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies was started by Ms Salie 10 years ago. It was because of her cancer diagnosis that she was inspired to start a club to promote healthy living. After her sixth operation to remove cancer from her colon, her doctor had little hope for her survival, and an emotional Ms Salie reached out to her mother’s friend, Shariefa Lagkar, to join her on walks around Bonteheuwel.

It was during that time that the seed of starting a healthy living club was planted. Soon the club grew in numbers and the healthy living activities the club promotes evolved to more than just physical health, but also emotional and mental health.

Ms Salie never imagined that the club she started would grow so phenomenally and have international links.

On Wednesday September 14, the club members hosted a surprise breakfast to bid Ms Salie a fond farewell. The Bonteheuwel community centre was decorated with the club’s signature colours – black and red – and a bon voyage (safe journey) placard took pride of place on the wall. Ms Salie’s tears flowed as she entered the hall, not expecting any of it, while her fellow club members and guests sang her the song Woman of Strength.

Speaking at the event, she told her fellow club members that she still could not “absorb” the idea of her going to represent the club, her city and the country.

“I want to thank everyone here today. This was a big surprise. Ten years ago, I thought I was going to die, but by the grace of God I am here.

“When I learnt that I had to buy my own flight ticket, I decided to put my complete trust in the Almighty. Within two days, enough money was raised for my ticket. My spiritual guide, community members, club members, the madrassa members and my family, all contributed to make this trip a reality for me,” Ms Salie said.

Desireé English, a tension, stress and trauma release practitioner, who uses breathing and relaxation to ease pain and deal with emotions, led an activity at the event, where a heart-shaped stone was passed around the hall, and everybody had to think of something positive while holding on to it. She later handed that stone over to Ms Salie, whom she asked to take it along with her. “The tears flowing are good ones, and I encourage you to feel it. When we have a positive emotion, it changes the energy within our bodies,” Ms English said.

Edna Petersen said the first time she saw Ms Salie’s passion and fearlessness for her community, was during an anti-gangsterism march.

“We had a lot of rallies against gangsterism, but I haven’t seen such bravery, like I saw in Soraya that day. I remember people were wearing white and she jumped onto the truck that led the march to make her voice heard. I want to wish her all the best and I know she will represent Bonteheuwel well and make us proud,” Ms Petersen added.

Club members Gadija Booranodien described the Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies as a one-stop organisation “where you get everything”.

She added: “At the club, we exercise the mind and body, as we are taught to respect others, and are even being taught to read the Qur’an. We are not just groomed physically, but mentally as well – all due to Soraya’s sacrifice. You might be leaving the shores of Africa for a little bit, but definitely not our hearts. Our lives have changed so much, since we started at the club, and we can see it in ourselves and in our homes.”

Kevin Jeptha, from HWPL, said people often attach a negative connotation to Bonteheuwel, but he has seen the strength and the courage of the community.

“It makes me proud to know that we’ll make sure that Bonteheuwel is known around the world,” he added.

Chairperson of HWPL, Man Hee Lee, hosted the international delegates from Saturday September 17 to Monday September 19.

They were invited to be part of various meetings for the implementation of the DPCW.

The meetings covered topics such as the role of the legal system to resolve religious conflicts, and the current role of The International Court of Justice of The United Nations in resolving armed conflicts, and consisted of; Advocacy Forum for the Declaration of Peace and Cessation of War, Media Forum for Advocacy of the Declaration of Peace and Cessation of War, The fourth HWPL International Law Peace Committee Meeting, International Religious Leaders Conference, Conference for the Implementation of the Declaration of Peace and Cessation of War, and the 2016 IWPG Network Forum.

* The DPCW came about through the 2014 WARP Summit, where HWPL signed on the Agreement to Propose the Enactment of International Law for the Cessation of Wars and World Peace. In September 2015, HWPL launched the HWPL International Law Peace Committee which consisted of international law scholars, professors, and director chief justices. In March this year, HWPL proclaimed the Declaration of Cessation of War and Peace, along with international law experts from various countries. Since March, a total of 535 493 people from 167 different countries have signed their support for the DPCW.