What Soraya Salie thought would be a simple eye test turned into something completely different when, in 2005, doctors at Vincent Pallotti Hospital, told her that there was a tumour pressing on against her pituitary gland. The operation to remove it was high risk as she could’ve lost her vision but all went well and her sight was retained.
Ten percent of the tumour, however, remains in place.
After that operation Ms Salie had to have four surgeries on her colon and doctors told her family that there was nothing else they could do for her. They sent her home and told her husband, Farouk, that she was going to die.
“I asked him how long I have left and did they give me a date and he said no. That’s when my whole life changed. I decided to refocus my life and decide on a purpose.
“I approached a woman who was a friend of my mothers and whom I confided in and together we walked the streets and greeted different residents,” she said.
In 2017 she got a few mothers and grandmothers together and they gathered regularly to exercise. She then started to network with various organisations about health and fitness and the group decided to call themselves the Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies.
“People always focus on youth and children but not much on women – mothers and grandmothers. My father was very abusive towards my mother and there are so many women experiencing domestic violence. I realised that we needed a platform to empower women and that is out motto – Walk, Talk, and Empower. These women have been through life and now they have time to focus on themselves and on religion,” she said.
One of the women whom Ms Salie has helped is Carmen Steyn, one of the Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies. In October last year her niece was killed and she struggled to cope with it.
“She gave me a shoulder to cry on, she is my pillar of strength. I can confide in her and she won’t tell anyone. She is very respectful, loving, and kind and she’s there for the community. She doesn’t rely on funds, she is based on charity. The community needs someone like that – with courage and strength, her door is always open,” she said.
In 2012 Ms Salie, 58, continued to empower women when she created a space in her home to teach Arabic to adults and educate them about Islam. Last year she attended the third annual World Alliance of Religions’ Peace Summit, as a peace ambassador, which was held in Seoul, South Korea, and she forms part of the delegation of the International Women’s Peace Group.
Since then she has been spreading the peace ethos among schools and organisations in Bonteheuwel to teach youth about respecting their bodies, and respecting others.
She planted a sunflower on each visit as a symbol of peace with a message to nurture the soil and soul as it grows.
Ms Salie also provides a listening ear to residents who need someone to speak to about social ills such as drugs, abuse, and marital problems.
“I embrace them because sometimes they just need someone to talk to and give them advice, but each situation is different and they just need someone to listen to them. Her most recent project has been interacting with various religious leaders about inculcating the ethos peace in everything they do. “We all believe in the same God and we need to get along. We need to get together to create a beautiful community that respects each other,” she said.