As she speaks, Sile Sibanda’s passion is clear to hear; she may be young, but there’s no missing the conviction in her words.
“The things that are happening in this country now will affect us when we’re adults,” she continues.
“We need to be informed and realise that we have to power to influence our own future. We can’t just sit back and rely on other people to do it for us.”
Sitting next to her, in the conference room of Rotherham’s Unity Centre, her mum Sithule Moyo is watching the 18-year-old with pride.
Sile continues: “What’s happened with the referendum has happened now; in part, because not enough young people were informed enough to stand up and vote. I want to help educate young people about the importance of being present in their communities and involved in the decisions that are made.”
Sithule, aged 37, agrees: “The current situation isn’t very nice, we’ve all seen people being racist, speaking out in hatred to other people, but in my experience, people get scared of what they don’t know. Most racists haven’t been in contact with people from different backgrounds, or had a conversation with them. If they did, they’d realise they’re just human beings like the rest of us.
“I also think it’s important to remember that not everybody is bad, when we moved here from Zimbabwe in 2006, the people of Rotherham welcomed us; we have a lovely community here.”
The mother and daughter duo are both incredibly passionate when it comes to their adopted community. And each of them has made a conscious decision to stand up and speak loudly about what they believe in - essentially, cohesion and knowledge. Sile has just finished her A Levels at Thomas Rotherham College where she was a school governor and on the hate crime panel. She has also established a group called Precious Young Minds, which aims to inform young people about current issues. The group recently hosted an event with leaders of the council, including the mayor, and local police, bringing them together in one room to have a dialogue with young people and answer their questions.
Sithule, who is a director for Rotherham Ethnic Minority Alliance and a trained community organiser, has also launched a community group called Mama Africa, which aims to support African women who have moved to the region, as they integrate with their new communities.
“The group features a number of asylum seekers who we support with their cases, signposting them to relevant services, and also offering emotional support,” says Sithule.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to these people. Often when I give talks, it’s about the issues facing asylum seekers and refugees. I want people to get to know the person behind the title, rather than simply stereotype. I want people to understand how these refugees came to be refugees and what this means. Quite often, than can be enough to start altering somebody’s mindset.”
And Sithule is keen to spread these messages of tolerance in her community, as well as in her own family, with Sile and her three other daughters, aged 15, eight and six.
“I’m proud of my girls, they all have community awareness. And they have amibition too. Where we come from in Zimbabwe, women dream of getting married and raising kids. I want to inspire my girls to dream bigger, to understand there is more to raising kids than being a housewife.” And the message is certainly rubbing off. Sile is heading to university in September where she plans to study to become a diagnostic radiographer.
“There are so many things I want to do, my possibilities are endless,” Sile smiles.
“I want to make a secure career for myself, as a radiographer, but I’d also love to pursue acting or music.”
And Sithule is dedicated to spreading her messages of inspiration to the rest of her community, in her role as a community organiser.
“I listen to people and support them to deliver projects close to their hearts. I never suggest what people should be passionate about, I consider my role to be simply supporting them in realising their dreams.”
And, for both women, their messages can be boiled down to a few simple words.
“Be empowered, be inspired, and love each other - love is always louder,” says Sithule.
“Speak up,” add Sile.
“Don’t wait for others to do for you, let your voice be heard.”
Sithule and Sile have teamed up with the rest of Sile’s sisters to form a family business - The SSAAS.
The family is hoping to open their own indoor community garden centre in their hometown of Rotherham, sometime in the next four years.
“ We’d love to create a place where families can come together to spend time with their children, as well as other local families,” said Sithule.
Sile added: “Whenever we go to garden centres, my little sisters love running around and exploring the plant life. We’ve vowed to create somewhere in our own community where people can come, enjoy food, attend functions, or just spend time together as a family.”