Cayly using performing arts to empower women, children
When Cayly Warner was 20 years old she was the victim of a vicious hijack and rape. Four years later she has had the opportunity to watch as her attackers were sentenced to life imprisonment after a lengthy trial which ended earlier this month.
The young woman that I sit opposite this week at a trendy new coffee shop is warm and engaging. She helps me explain to the waiter how to make a mochachino. As I am 8 and a half months pregnant I don’t want to overdo the caffeine. In the end we both select macchiatos, realizing that this particular coffee shop offers an enticing selection of these flavoured lattes. Like me, Cayly is a lover of coffee shops and connecting with different people over warm beverages.
Heart for people
Cayly clearly has a heart for people. She shares with me how she hopes to impact the lives of others through her gifts and skills within the area of the dramatic arts and through using her harrowing story to bring hope and healing to women and children. She is willing and open to share her story and we settle down to a cosy and quiet corner. We chat about the recent culmination of the trial and she tells me that she chose to be present to witness the sentencing on July 9.
During our time together she speaks of many choices that she has been faced with over the past four years. The choice to forgive or to hold onto bitterness, the choice to speak out or to keep silent, the choice to embrace God’s love, or to let the confusion of how such hurt could have been inflicted on her push her away from pursuing a relationship with Him.
Cayly is animated and confident as she talks about the past four years which she says have been an unexpected journey for her, starting from the night when her life was rocked by the frightful hijack which took place at Noordhoek beach on Marine Drive, Port Elizabeth. She was out on a date with her then boyfriend when the young couple were attacked at gunpoint, kidnapped and bundled into the boot of their car, and held hostage for several hours, during which Cayly was raped repeatedly. Miraculously the couple was able to escape with their lives.
Cayly likens this journey from the moment of attack to where she stands today to chapters of a book. She says that although she closes chapters as she heals and moves forward, she does not throw the book away. She believes that God allowed this to happen to her, but He also promises to use it for her good.
Decision to forgive
On the night of the attack, Cayly refers to a moment with her mother that has helped define this journey. She was at the hospital for forensic examination which was painful and awful in itself. Her mom hugged her and said: “Let’s pray.” She recalls that it was in this moment that they both made the decision to forgive. Cayly says: “And that I think was the most powerful thing to do because it let go of any bitter tentacles.” She stresses, however, that this forgiveness is a choice she has to continue to make everyday, and that it does not take the pain away, but with vehemence she states: “I refuse to let it have a hold on me.”
Perhaps it is this choice to forgive that enables Cayly today to reflect on the outcome of the trial with a sense of relief, but at the same time to express that to her it is not a happy celebration. Incredibly she says: “It is not a sense of happiness for me because I have a very empathetic heart. I’m not excusing what they did, but the lives of these two men are now thoroughly stuffed up due to their choices. It makes me sad that they made those choices.”
Along with her decision to forgive, another essential aspect of Cayly’s journey of healing has been the support that she has received from family and friends over the years. From the start she allowed special people to journey with her and enter into the dark places alongside her. She chose to share her pain and her story from the beginning. It’s a lonely journey she admits, as nobody can quite understand another’s pain, but through little acts of kindness, prayers and hugs she is reminded over and over of God’s love. She realises that it is not always easy for friends and family to know what to do or say during times of hurt and grief, but her advice is: “Listen to your heart, God will tell you how to be there for someone.” She suggests not to wait, but to do the little things. They count.
‘Wounded people wound’
Cayly regards herself as blessed for the access to help and support that she has in her life. Through her experience she has learnt more about the devastating extent of rape in South Africa. One of the most shocking things to her has been to discover that less than 10% of rapists are sentenced for their crimes. She is one of the lucky ones. She finds that there is a huge discrepancy between the extent of the problem and the support available to women, especially those from impoverished communities. She is saddened by the realisation that in these communities rape has becomes a norm. She wishes that more people would stand up and help, and wonders why more rapists are not caught and sentenced. But she speaks of the issue as a complex problem that stems from oppression deep within our society. “Wounded people wound”, she says. “That’s what makes it so sad, it’s not just a rape epidemic, there is an abusive cycle happening. Why are people feeling so powerless that they are needing to inflict that pain on someone else?”
Cayly does not presume to have a quick fix solution, but in her own life she recognises that God has given her a part to play. He has equipped her and given her a heart to make a difference in a way that is particular and unique to her. At the time of the attack she was studying performing arts at the Stageworld Theatre School and with Trinity Guildhall School of London. She has always had a passion for drama and public speaking and believed that God would use her in these areas. In fact, God had already laid on her heart a desire to speak a message of hope to women. She presumed her message would be about health issues and relationships, as up until the attack these were the kind of things that she had walked through and shared in common with other women. She says that she never realised the extent to which her message would draw hope from her attack experience.
After the attack, her studies took a back seat as she prioritised the healing process. Four years later and she is qualified in performing arts. Initially she tried to gravitate towards Cape Town where she felt more opportunities would be available, however the doors just kept closing and she believes that God was telling her to stay in Port Elizabeth for the time being. In 2010 she was cast as a presenter on the locally filmed children’s show, Garbage Gallery, which was screened on SABC 3. She has since decided to study towards teaching speech and drama, and is currently completing her Licentiate in Teaching Speech and Drama through Stageworld Theatre School and Trinity Guildhall School of London. This decision has led her to the beginnings of an exciting new chapter.
Drama workshop studio
As Cayly closes the chapter of a long, drawn-out and emotionally draining trial, she begins to pen a new chapter where her gifts, skills and life experience look set to blossom into something quite beautiful. She has established her own drama workshop studio, aptly named Bloom Studios. Cayly will be offering workshops for both children and adults through which she believes God is calling her to speak hope and also to equip people with the tools that she has been equipped with. She says: “If I can use the gifts that I have been given to help others, that would be amazing!” She believes that God gave her the name Bloom Studios as the point at which a flower blooms is the most beautiful. She wants to help other people to bloom, to flourish. She hopes that through performing arts she can help to equip others with tools that will enable them to find their best characters, their best voices and to grow in confidence. She believes that the tools taught in the performing arts can benefit anybody. Her workshops are not necessarily aimed at those who are pursuing careers on the stage or screen, but at anybody who wants to grow in confidence and find their voice. She also hopes to be able to take the workshops to women in impoverished communities.
When it comes to children, Cayly has a big heart to instil confidence, value and worth from a young age, and not just with girls. She says that she has a special place in her heart to work with young boys, as this is when she believes that steps can be taken to equip young men to make the right choices in the future. She wants to play her part to help fix the cycle of brokenness that leads to further hurt.
In her own life on the stage Cayly feels called not to play a character, but rather to be herself. It’s a vulnerable place she puts herself in, and she acknowledges that it has taken time to feel ready enough to do it. She was hesitant at first, but ultimately decided that it would be selfish not to. Doors are beginning to open up, and Cayly has had the opportunity to speak at women’s events in the city, with more lined up in the coming months. She has found that when she stands up and shares her story at events, other women approach her afterwards and feel comfortable enough to share their own stories of hurt with her. Cayly tells me how she has come to realise that sadly, so many women feel shame or judgment and choose not to speak out. “When you share your story it opens up the doors for other people to share their stories, and I think that’s the beauty of it. If I didn’t have a story, how else would I reach women’s hearts?”
Spending time with Cayly and hearing her story is an encouragement. Her message of hope is authentic as her journey has been marked with real pain, but real healing too. She does not disregard the difficulties and admits to me that she still has really bad days, but I can’t help but believe along with her that her story will touch and inspire many lives. There is definitely beauty in it.
- See Cayly’s blog: http://www.caylysdandeliondays.wordpress.com