The brightness of her smile rivaled her yellow sari as she walked towards us. It is the color of peace we were told, exactly what Soraya Salie stands for.
“I think the time has come for peace because the entire world is in turmoil. People are angry, people are fighting and I think people have forgotten about what peace really is,” she said.
Soraya started the Bonteheuwel Walking Ladies (BWL) club almost 11 years ago. It was a near-death health scare that made her realize she needed to take better care of herself and this inspired her to start walking every day. Soon other ladies joined in as well. It became more than just about walking, but also about understanding the next person’s struggles and victories.
BWL offers health and emotional support to women in Bonteheuwel. Soraya’s sister, Latiefah Sampson, joined BWL about seven years ago while she was fighting drug addiction and had lost everything but her sister’s love.
After managing to stay clean for a year, she too felt the need to give back. She became an active member of BWL by becoming the choreographer of their infamous dance moves.
“She was the one there for me, helping me, assisting me,” said Sampson. “I just love the club and through the club I am still clean.”
At the core of the many charity events that BWL hosts, are the values of peace and unity. This year their annual Ladies Breakfast will take place on 7 August, a day before Women’s Day. The ladies live by the words ‘sharing is caring’ and therefore attend charity events often.
They recently took part in a food and blanket drive in Schaapkraal that served more than 300 residents. Many of the ladies are pensioners, some no longer receive benefits or any form of income yet they donated several bags filled with non-perishables. Soraya encourages Bonteheuwel residents to look beyond their neighbourhood and circumstances, and to try and see how privileged they are in comparison to less fortunate others.
“I thank Almighty that we could be part of such a humble act of serving humanity outside our area. And with this mission of peace, what we doing today is really trying to instill the seed of peace into the hearts of people,” she said.
Soraya is not only the founder of BWL and a member of the Bonteheuwel Peace Forum, but also a peace ambassador for the International Women’s Peace Group. She received the Women in Islam-Women in South Africa award at the International Peace College of South Africa in 2016 and works with many other organizations and initiatives that promote peace, safety, social cohesion and coexistence.
Soraya lives and breathes peace activism and you can see this through her every word and action. Her hope is that peace may come upon South Africa and its people may enjoy a true democracy. As a person who fought for democracy in the past, the democracy the country has now is not the democracy she envisaged. The democracy is still young, she said.
“But I am hopeful because I love my country… I am happy where I am. In Bonteheuwel.”