Imisebeyelanga – the story so far. October 2008
In 2007 we first met with G&R, the two women who are the driving force behind Imisebeyelanga – literally the name means ‘the sun rising’. They come from combined backgrounds of nursing, social work, research, training and one is a Pastor. They have many contacts and considerable awareness of the area from years of working in the Soshangave and Tshwane areas of north and west Gauteng province – on the borders of Gauteng and North West provinces—and so they have very extensive knowledge of the environment, the local people, the problems and the socio-economic factors that people face everyday in these semi rural areas where there is no employment, no local transport, no infrastructure and, for many, no electricity or running water.
As we gradually got to know G&R we began to understand their aspirations and their preparedness to risk their own economic survival to achieve their dreams. They have long identified the need for training, for community awareness programmes and the impact that volunteer workers and others can having on the health and wellbeing of the local populace. They have extensive and personal knowledge of the high levels of crimes, the increasing levels of brutality against the vulnerable and the impact that HIV/AIDs is having as well as the lack of opportunity there is for families and for the young and for those susceptible to charlatans and malevolent or unscrupulous faith healers.
The graveyard at Khatlehong
We already know from current experts* that in the poorer communities there are four things that can be done to protect young children from harm; the first two are of crucial importance:
- Community awareness, intervention and prevention including work with mothers, families and men’s groups. These can be undertaken by volunteers, or employed staff, trained in holistic child, family and counselling based skills alongside knowledge of the impact of socio-economic factors, illness, parenting and recognising and dealing with abuse.
- Early prevention and recognition through community volunteers and the training of staff/volunteers in Early Childhood Development Centres [these are critical to reduce the risks]
- Services for survivors
- Re-integration of survivors and perpetrators.
By November 2007 G&R had decided to start Imisebeyelanga and to look for funders; they set up as a registered Not for Profit Organisation and began the long process of getting accreditation for their draft training programmes. We discussed very openly with them what are our priorities around the protection of small children, what we know has an impact, our hopes and expectations of and for any trainees and we all worked together flexibly to develop an affordable package of training for volunteer workers as either home based carers or those working with orphans and vulnerable children [OVC]. By February 2008 we had funding in place and signed the contracts for an 18 month programme whence 90 people will be trained fulltime over either 25 or 40 days. The costs included training, travel, materials, regular reports back to us, outings and venues; also during this time they receive a small stipend—for some this is a large amount further enhancing their sense of self-esteem.
|A poster from the training|
In August I visited the project for the first time since it got going and met with some of the existing trainees and some of the people already trained and working. This is always an extraordinarily humbling time: the trainees are mainly people who have previously had little hope, no jobs, no expectations, very few possessions and traumatic personal histories. They have few life options, so this training gives them hope and self-esteem and a standing in their communities and a possible way into a different future – if nothing else they know they can be of huge value to their community… as one lady said to me:
‘My Father is so proud of me because he knows that I can help, and he knows that I know things that will help people, and he tells people to talk to me and not these wicked healers’.
As part of the set-up and the development of the courses we have built in visits, outings, fun and a ‘graduation’ day – for people who have never had the money to do anything, going to the cinema is a huge event, and the graduation is a very moving occasion with many friends and families putting on their best and beaming with pride.
|A happy trainee at the certificate ceremony|
|Home-based carers from Imi||
|A group of Community volunteers just completing their training|
All ‘our’ trainees have this same sense of immense pride and of being highly valued by their families and their local people; yet their working lives are not easy. Many of them walk up to 10 km a day to visit the sick and vulnerable or to give a talk, they know that they can get little help from the official services and if they come across a problem there is no taxi or bus or ambulance, or often even no phone – one lady recounted how she had to push a dying lady 5km to the clinic in a wheelbarrow. They tell me such terrible stories of children being abused, of the perpetuation of rubbishy myths under the guise of ‘traditional methods of healing’, of death and grief and vulnerability and yet they are upbeat, excited and sensible. We fund and provide them with a bag of materials for their work, basic reference books and a bright green T-shirt—they love the T-shirts, in this bright green they are already being recognised as someone who can help… one young trainee described them as becoming the eyes and the ears of the community.
G & R have successfully completed 3 courses now, the fourth one has just started and we are looking further to the future. We have added another two T-shirts per trainee to the contracts so that they can be worn everyday - we are all learning as we go along. Direct accreditation for the courses has stalled due to ‘administration’ but this is true everywhere in South Africa; so we just wait and meanwhile another organisation, already accredited, is giving support and professional and training advice as required so we are fairly sure these existing modules conform to a national standard.
This is a turning into a hugely successful project, the trainees are doing immensely valuable work in their communities picking up problems helping and protecting children and families— we applaud G&R for their leap of faith and immense personal commitment to this work. Despite initial concerns of a large project with no previous track record we are delighted to be funding and supporting this programme.
the infant trust
[*Professor Andy Dawes, Human Sciences Research Council and Cape Town University]
[*Professor Theresa Mashego, Limpopo University]