Koketso Moeti: Founder of Operation Rooigrond

| July 6, 2012

She believes the world can be a better place for all of us if those who can afford it are more compassionate. She believes that one need not be rich in order to make a difference; one must simply be willing, generous and in touch with the world around them. She’s a dreamer and a believer and she is making a difference in her own small way in a small town in South Africa. Koketso Moeti is the founder of Operation ROOIGROND, an organization through which she continues to facilitate positive change in the ROOIGROND community. Through the use of education and knowledge, she sees the operation as a means to alleviate poverty, eradicate substance abuse, unplanned pregnancies and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Afrikan Goddess chatted with Koketso about her dreams and aspirations for Operation ROOIGROND, and about her dreams for the future of African women and the continent as a whole. Read her interview with us below:

Please tell me a little bit about yourself. Who is Koketso Moeti?

I would describe myself as someone who is very aware, not only of what is happening directly to me, but beyond my circle of association too. I am a lover of current affairs, books and an aspiring writer. I am also a dreamer and a believer. I believe that we can create a world that is much kinder and compassionate

I am a woman. To me this goes beyond mere gender. I see is as a role and I take it quite seriously as a South African because it bears a lot of implications. It is also the foundation from which my other roles such as that of mother are built. I love life and the challenges it brings – as well as the uncertainty of what the next day holds, it gives me quite a thrill.

What inspired you to create ROOIGROND? Was there a particular event that led you to establish this wonderful organization? What does ROOIGROND mean?

ROOIGROND is an Afrikaans word, meaning ‘red ground’. It is what the area was named by the Afrikaans regime which ruled South Africa, prior to our democracy in 1994.

There is no particular event. The establishment of Operation: ROOIGROND came about because I have always believed that there are many ways that one can make a meaningful difference. This coupled with my interest in the human mind and human behaviour led me to this field. Looking around me and even my own personal experiences drove me to believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way things are done and that there is something I can do to change things.

What is the mission of ROOIGROND?

Operation: ROOIGROND is about facilitating positive change in the community of the ROOIGROND Informal Settlement; by utilising education and knowledge as a means to alleviating poverty; eradicating substance abuse; unplanned pregnancies and the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as encouraging the formation of partnerships between the community and others. It is also a beautiful way of allowing the community to explore the endless ways in which they can help themselves.

The aim of this project is to establish a library in the community, to provide the community with a place where they can study, gain knowledge, and have access to information. This is a very important part of eradicating the problems in the area and breaking the negative cycles. I believe this will encourage learning and will grant access to information that will lead to a mental shift within the community.

We also aim to have a fully functioning community centre. This centre will be utilised for educational sessions that will cover topics such as substance abuse, family planning, HIV/AIDS and many other issues that are problems in the community. It will also serve as a rape counseling centre and fulfill a large number of tasks within the community. The positive consequences of having such a centre in the community include, amongst many others, a decrease in issues affecting the area due to an increase in knowledge about these issues; it will have a positive effect on the self esteem of the community and make a positive impact on their self determination, as everything undertaken at the centre will be for the purposes of empowering the community.

“ However, Operation: Rooigrond goes beyond building a library and facilitating positive change. It is about making a difference, bringing hope where there’s none. It is about lighting up a spark in people’s lives, a spark which they in turn would carry to another person leading to a fire within the community; which is bound to spread out and reach society at large.”

Describe how your life’s experiences and background have reflected in the work you do at ROOIGROND.

Growing up was rather interesting and impacted on the work I do today. Even as a child, I could see that something was wrong, that the birth of our democracy made very little impact on the lives of many in the former homelands. This coupled with my avid reading compelled me to explore how we can make a better world for all. Often we believe that the only people who can make a difference are the rich, I’ve always believed otherwise, that there are other ways that one can make a meaningful difference and that this should be explored.

You discovered how the use of technological advancements helps to bridge the gap between the voiceless and those with voices, the haves and the have-nots; what else have you discovered about the use of technology in relation to its fight for the causes of the disadvantaged? And do you believe this discovery is fundamental to future progress when it comes to bridging that gap?

It is indeed fundamental. Never before have we had access to information the way we do now. This in turn has increased access to opportunity and a world of knowledge in the form of things that in many ways assist us in creating a more equal society. I do however feel that we are not exploiting this tool to the maximum and still have a long way to go. But, we have already made great strides in this regards – particularly when it comes to mobile technology, which is the most used in Africa.

You must have experienced many setbacks on your journey to making a difference. What challenges have you encountered in building and sustaining the mission and goals of ROOIGROND?

Personally, my biggest challenges have been that many people are not supportive of my work. There is a misconception of it and it is perceived to be ‘anti-government’ or ‘controversial’, rather than ‘pro-people’ and ‘pro-justice’. Also, my work is something I take very seriously, however striking the balance between being a mother and my work is not always the easiest thing to do. Professionally, it has been a serious lack of resources and the constant need to build capacity within to ensure the greater impact of our programme.

How does ROOIGROND benefit the cause of women and children in particular?

By empowering the community women have been able to learn about the range of public services available to them at no cost, as well as how to access these services – such as social services grants, protection orders, and citizen registration documents such as IDs, amongst many more. This in turn has empowered their families as a whole.

Also, with regards to children, we have successfully established an Early Learning Centre which serves to not only provide an early childhood education to children who would otherwise be without- but also provides them with a place of safety and access to stimulating material they would otherwise never be able to access. It is also a place that serves as a Homework centre in the afternoon, a place where children can come for meals and be at in case of emergency.

African women such as yourself are increasingly getting involved and speaking up about the issues that affect them and their communities, what are your dreams for the role women play in South Africa and in Africa in general?

At the grassroots level I find that it is women who are organising their communities and creating positive change. I strongly believe that what women are doing on the ground is evidence of our ability to lead effectively and efficiently. However, it is time for us to move beyond grassroots level, to go up in ranks where we can influence policy and address the challenges women face in ways that only a woman can. I would love to see women move beyond the ‘token’ positions held by many in government to positions of greater authority. We need our women to be presidents and govern our countries.

What is the best way you believe Afrikan Goddess readers can assist ROOIGROND achieve its goals?

By liking our page on http://facebook.com/orooigrond and following us on Twitter on @ORooigrond. These are but a few of the means we use to access information. We are always trying to access information that will assist in the development of the programme and the community. We also welcome views on how we can improve our programme and any other input too.

Just for fun, name 2 African women you admire the most, and why.

This is a tricky one, because I’ve always been exposed to many strong women in my life. From my own mother and grandmother to the wonderful group of women making up the Operation: ROOIGROND team and those who assist our work so much. I have also been exposed to many other great women in South Africa and beyond and selecting only two is impossible.

However I will say this, my experiences with these women has largely contributed to my using the word woman as a synonym for strength and courage.

Finally, is there anything you would like to share with readers that I may have neglected to ask?

Yes. Apart from Operation: ROOIGROND, I am also the South African Correspondent of Safe World (Please see http://www.asafeworldforwomen.org/about/the-ngo/correspondents/koketso-moeti.html), which allows me to share news affecting women and children on the ground. Too often the plight of the rural and marginalised, as well as their stories of hope and victory, are ignored and this has given me a platform from which to share such stories and raise awareness of the challenges faced.

I also serve as the Provincial Coordinator of the North-West branch of the South African NGO Coalition (SANGOCO North-West). This has provided me with a platform from which to connect and serve in the province as a whole, a challenge I really have come to enjoy and love. It is also the means through which I fund the Operation: ROOIGROND administration costs and also allows me to reach further for the purposes of sharing the experiences of women in South Africa. I love my work and consider myself to be blessed beyond to be doing what I love and what I want to be doing.  

For more information about Operation: ROOIGROND or, for ways in which you can become involved, or if you just want to reach out to Koketso Moeti, visit http://facebook.com/orooigrond

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