Report of Lesley's Visit to South Africa,November 2005:
I visited Johannesburg & the Gauteng Province again from 18th – 28th November 2005 to revisit services and begin to put some project plans together with our partners.
(Click on any picture to see more photos)
I spoke with many people who are involved with services related to infant/child abuse, the mental health of children and young people, women and families decimated and bought down by the effects of AIDS and I visited several services I had been to before and two that I had not been to – and what an amazingly worthwhile trip it turned out to be. Again my flights were donated, and the costs were kept to a minimum.
I learned a lot about some of the reasons behind these awful acts of violence and became convinced that to help the infants and children we must also help the women to find a way out of the traps of poverty, limited education and the resultant dependence on men. We also can’t ignore the impact that AIDS is having on millions of people and thousands upon thousands of families.
From what I gather from the available research and reading papers by people who treat children and families it seems that there are several interdependent reasons for abusing small children – any children. It is of course extremely complex but the main contributing factors seem to be:
- AIDS + the virgin myth does seem to have an impact in some places
- Male dominance but yet there is an emasculation of men through loss of their place in society: - no employment, illness, family disintegration
- Migratory workers disengaged from their families and the resultant gangs and tribal tensions that arise.
There is a very substantive piece of research being undertaken into infant abuse in South Africa that should help us to understand more. We plan to support this research as it will be very useful in helping us to focus our efforts and funds more appropriately.
So, where did I go?
The Topsy Foundation
I visited Rufford House, part of the Topsy Foundation and met many bright and cheerful children in both the nursery school and the crèche. Both groups are a mixture of local children and children from the orphanage.
All the children living in Rufford House have a chequered background, and all are orphans as result of HIV/AIDS.
Whilst at Rufford House I was extremely fortunate to be taken out with social worker Elizabeth into the local township and squatter camp meeting people who are living in extremely difficult circumstances and struggling to deal with the effects of AIDS. In many families the parents / step parents have died of AIDS and the families are either child-led or grandparent-led. The outreach workers tell me this is prime territory for child abuse, but they are not equipped or trained to deal with these events – and there is little money for outreach workers let alone their training.
Ekupholeni Mental Health Centre
I revisited EMHC as we are setting up a project with the Sinakekelwe Crisis Centre to do several things:
- To train the volunteers who ‘work’ in the crisis centre to ensure they are fully trained in receiving damaged children and women and can take proper notes [so there is a greater chance of a prosecution] as well as having some basic counselling skills
- This will help the children enormously but also help the volunteers to get a recognised level of basic education i.e. grade 12 matriculation, and a level of accredited skills thereby leading to paid jobs thus assisting in breaking the cycle of female dependency
- We are planning to do this work in partnership with the crisis centre, but also with the Child Abuse Treatment and Training Service who are very experienced in training in this field
It is exciting work and will greatly help children and empower the women.
|The entrance from the A&E department||The entrance around the ‘back’|
Whilst at Ekupholeni I visited some of the outreach clinics, the squatter camps and the informal settlements meeting people in their homes, hearing and seeing the devastating effects of unemployment, poverty, AIDS and many families with no adults. Children are so very vulnerable in these circumstances and are prey to anyone who wishes to use their greater strength and power. Part of the way in which we can help is to work in partnership to support the outreach workers and the local faith healers [Sangomas] through awareness raising and training.
I met with the Manager – Yashmita – of the Child Abuse Treatment and Training Services [part of the Johannesburg Children’s Welfare Society, a statutory body] and we talked a lot about how we could work together to develop on-the-job training packages using their local and specialist expertise and our funds for the benefit of improving services and empowering women. We have already started to talk about the work we will do.
More information as things progress.
I visited two amazing services that provide long-stay care for very damaged children. One I have to thank Claudia for the introduction – Epworth Children’s Home - and the other to Trevor Field, the dynamic and driving force behind the Roundabout PlayPumps
Epworth Children’s Home
This is a Methodist funded home outside Johannesburg taking care of some of the most damaged children in the area. They take children from 4 years to 18 years and presently have around 75 children all requiring intensive help. The children are all placed by the courts and all have a very turbulent background – one child was bought to the home having survived in a burnt out car in an informal settlement after the last of his parents/family died of AIDS. He had been in the car for about a year. He was 4 years old when he arrived, much abused, and will not talk about that time.
We can help through proving funds for basic equipment and educational materials, but also through training for volunteers and staff. In this way, again, we can help the children but also help the quality of service, the staff through providing education and skills training and providing free-standing training packages.
|Lesley with Epworth Children||Pictures from the Epworth school room|
This is another truly astonishing home, and one we must help and support. They provide care and a home for over 200 street children all with extraordinarily abusive and violent backgrounds; yet the home exudes an atmosphere of noise, love and happiness. The children simply appear, often no-one knows how they arrive or in what state but children are always provided with shelter and food, and expected to get involved despite their past. The youngest I met is 6 months and the oldest 18 years and they act and interact as a [very large] family. All the children have terrible tales to tell and many cannot talk about their histories – one little girl, now 5years old, could not have her head touched for 2 years following prolonged gang rape after which the perpetrators carved their initials in her head.
Many children at Botshebela are HIV+ and many have already died. But this is a place of laughter and light albeit they are literally struggling day to day to provide food and shelter for this large family.
The setting is a 400acre farm and, largely due to the provision of water through one of the Playpumps [www.roundabout.co.za] an encampment is growing on the periphery of the farm.
|The Playpump||Lesley with children at Botshebela||Children at play on the Botshebela farm|
Whilst in South Africa I also visited an A&E department and a hospital for children and adults with mental health problems, a unit for adolescents and children’s mental health clinics + spoke with several experts in the field of child mental health and child protection services. All of this is to try to get a greater understanding of the consequences of early severe abuse in South Africa, but also to understand what is available in terms of help and support. It is very clear how prolonged and deep-seated are the effects of abuse in early life without skilled and intensive support, but also how important it is to help to break the cycle of abuse and being abused.
As a result of this visit to South Africa we have refined our work to be concentrating on:
- Medico-social support. Support of individuals and family support in the immediate aftermath of abuse and the crisis stage of treatment
- Places of safety. The support of vital safe placements for the abused infant or child on completion of initial treatment to prevent individuals having to return to the place of abuse
- Education/training to prevent or identify abuse. Training programmes for community health and care workers to enable them to both recognise and appropriately deal with issues of child abuse but also to enable women to gain education and skills so they can seek employment and independence.
We will set up specifically designed projects to do this, but ones that can be replicated in other places when funds allow.
We will be starting to work:
- In partnership with Sinakekelwe and Zamokuhle Crisis centres to train volunteers and staff
- In partnership with CATTS to provide tailor-made training programmes and packages
- Helping to get women training and into jobs, out of poverty and deprivation and dependence
- Working with Childline SA to help fund safe-havens
- Supporting the work of Epworth Children’s Home and Botshebela Trust where they provide short and long-term homes for very damaged young children
Full permission has been given to use the photographs