Paving The Way Towards An Inclusive Future
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
Basheera Surty is an occupational therapist who has turned her passion for paediatrics and community development into a business that is paving the way towards a truly inclusive future for South Africa's youth. We chat with her about life as a social entrepreneur and her latest project - Affirmations For The African Child.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, how you got into the health care industry and why?
I grew up in Rustenburg, which was a small town back then. I always had a desire to work with people and I started exploring what professions were out there besides medicine. I came across Occupational Therapy and I found the mental health space really fascinating. I was fortunate to get into the programme at UCT and moved to the big city wide-eyed and having no idea what I was in for!
I enjoyed living independently and getting to see another type of life. I met some of the people who have had a lasting impact on my career and how I see the world. It was also great to connect with people who were like-minded. I ended up working in paediatrics after I qualified and found myself always returning to South African based community development and NPO spaces, after working in hospitals, overseas and private practices.
Have you experienced any challenges navigating this particular industry as a woman and if yes, please tell us a little more about them and how you managed to overcome them?
Yes, I have, mostly with people’s perceptions of me as a woman and doing community-based development work. Being a woman in the business space is still foreign to so many people. We enter into a space where the majority of the individuals are men and many have preconceived ideas of the role of woman, which is not to be in business or competing in the space as they are.
I find that women have to advocate a lot more to be present and heard in the business space. Another barrier is how the work of Diketo is viewed. Diketo is a social enterprise, the concept of social entrepreneurship is also foreign for many. People are still becoming aware that there can be a connection between being profitable while doing impactful work in communities.
What has helped me address this, was finding a community where I felt I belong as a woman in the business space. For me, I found the Fix Scholarship, which is a collective community of women from different entrepreneurial spaces. This space allows us to share our frustrations and problem-solve around issues that we face being women in entrepreneurship and business.
Let’s talk about Diketo Inclusive Education, when and how was the organisation born?
Diketo was born in 2015. While working in different communities, I realised the important need for access to services for children with disabilities and how unconscious and unprepared we are as a society about inclusion, and how to be inclusive in the services we provide for people. This led me to start Diketo Inclusive Education.
Tell us about your service offering and programmes?
We do training and support for early childhood development centres, schools and play spaces on how to become inclusive for children with disabilities. This allows them to start including children with disabilities into their programmes more confidently, understand how possible it is and equipped to provide the correct kinds of support for the child so that the child can thrive in these mainstream environments.
What is your vision for the organisation?
Our vision is to create an inclusive world for children with disabilities so that they can be heard, seen and welcomed in all spaces within their communities.
You recently partnered with the Fix Scholarship to create Africa’s first inclusive affirmation cards for the African child, titled “Affirmations for the African Child”, why was it important for you to get involved with this project and what are you hoping to achieve through it?
This product is to develop self-esteem, self-love and acceptance of oneself and others. It is an inclusive product so the words are also in English and Braille and the pictures depict children of different abilities, races and cultures across Africa.
We hope that children will always remember their own internal power by using the cards. They will be able to see images that look like them and also have more understanding when coming across other children with different disabilities. We hope that this will lead children to start asking questions about their own differences and uniqueness as well as that of others.
As a woman of colour taking your seat at the table, what has been your experience so far?
Unfortunately being a woman of colour in a world that has been developed for the white capitalist man has many hurdles. One challenge I have faced is how to stay true to myself, my origins, cultures and beliefs instead of feeling the need to adapt to others or to what exists in order to be successful.
The status quo is only going to change toward being more inclusive, once we rightfully take our place in the world by being ourselves and speaking our truth. What I found helpful in doing this is using daily positive affirmations and meditations to remind me of my own internal power. This is another reason Affirmations of the African Child is something I believe all children need from a young age.
Any advice for the budding female social entrepreneur entering the industry at this time?
Look after yourself. It is a long journey but it is a venture of a lifetime if you always stay in tune with yourself and care for yourself in the process of it all. You will grow through this journey, every day, from the easy times and the challenging times and you will need to remember your core self through all of it. This will help you persevere, grow, learn and realise your dreams.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I do not have a strong inclination toward wanting to “leave a legacy”. I believe however we engage in the world moment by moment and the intention of each engagement is how we will be remembered. Hopefully, there will be more positive than negative ones ;)
Author: Liesl Frankson