Lefika La Phodiso is Africa’s first organisation offering community art counselling training. Aptly named, Lefika La Phodiso means the rock of holding and healing. It is just this to the many children and adults who use this safe space as part of their recovery and growth. Lefika La Phodiso’s core areas of work, namely counselling and training, happen under the same roof, allowing for a meaningful symbiosis. Paper, paints, clay and recycled objects become transformative tools of creative expression, both joyous and cathartic. It is an equally pivotal place for the practitioners who are trained at the organisation with a view to offering accessible mental health services for children, in under-resourced communities. Based at the Children's Memorial Institute in Johannesburg, this optimum inner-city location is the ideal venue as it is accessible and secure. It’s also home to many important health-based organisations. As a member of SAPPIN, Lefika La Phodiso's work is strengthened by being able to offer programmes for parents in their community. This film demonstrates the benefit of being part of the SAPPIN Network and the impact of Lefika La Phodiso's work with parents.
Founded by clinical psychologists Tony and Hillary Hamburger, Ububele is a centre of learning with a focus on improving the emotional development and wellbeing of children under 7, their parents and other caregivers. Since the beginning in 2000, its work has centred on the promotion of mental health and the development, field testing and advocating of low-cost models of preventative care and experiential training, which are suitable for low-resource environments. Located in Kew, their programmes are mainly conducted in nearby Alexandra. Ububele, which means kindness, embodies the notion of public interest psychology. As a member of SAPPIN, Ububele's work is strengthened by being able to offer new programmes for parents as part of their basket of services. This film demonstrates the benefit of being part of the SAPPIN Network and the impact of Ububele's work in supporting parents.
A weekly Kids Clubs runs at a local church in Swayimane. Women trained in running this programme have also been trained in Child Protection.
As part of their training they come up with their own code of conduct that frames their values and commitment to creating a safe protected space for children to be together and play.
This is a space where children know they can ask for help and where adults will listen and take action.
Dlalanathi, in partnership with the Thandanani Children’s Foundation and Singakewnza have designed and implement a programme called PlayMat which focuses on Early Child Development.
This homebased play group programme brings parents together on a weekly basis in each other’s homes to encourage play for learning with their children under the age of 5 years.
All participating moms receive a PlayMat which helps create a safe play space for her and her child or children at home. Moms also learn how to make a number of different toys out of recycled waste materials that teach both fine and gross motor skills.
Layered into this programme are conversations around child protection and positive discipline. “You are your child’s first teacher” is a key message in this programme.
Case study In one community there had been a young pregnant woman who was always present in the PlayMat group meetings except when she had to go to the clinic for a check-up.
When she gave birth to her child, the baby’s father named him ‘ECD’ as the mother was very interested in the programme during her pregnancy. After the birth of the child, the father supported the mother by attending group meetings with her so he could help with activities with their other 4 year old girl.
The father reported that since the mother started attending the programme, he had noticed a great change in her. He said the mother spent more time with their 4 year old daughter and their relationship has improved a lot. “ECD has had a positive impact on her and she had learnt the importance of spending time and bonding with her child,”said the father. They both (father and mother) appreciate being part of this programme as they will be able to raise their kids in a proper and fun way.
Caregivers in Swayimane, a rural community an hour outside of Pietermaritzburg meet to participate in a nine week Family Support Group.
This peer support group takes women through a process that empowers each individual to addresses the trauma that she feels.
One of the steps in the process is to make a doll.This activity is used to reflect on the importance of play in the lives of the children they care for.
They also learn ways to use play to improve listening and communication in the home. At the end of each of the nine sessions they go home with an activity they have learnt and implement this immediately with their children.
When asked at the end of the nine weeks what has been the “most significant change in your home” caregiver’s share they have noticed that they are not shouting or hitting their children any more, and that their children want to spend more time with them. This healing process strengthen connections, builds supportive relationships and brings change for children.
By the end of 2019, after working in Mpumuza and Sweetwaters for 4 years, dlalanathi had trained and built the capacity of 38 women to be responsive to the emotional care and support of children in their community.
These women run weekly activities in an area of work that they are interested in. This means that there are Bereavement Support Groups for children, Kids Clubs, Play Days, Child Participation Groups, Holiday Programmes and PlayMat Groups (a programme that supports ECD in the home for children under 5years) all being offered to children on an ongoing basis.
These women all have a strong commitment to child safeguarding practices and are known in the community as AB’s Abaduduzi Bezengane “Comforters of Children”.
Esther Chunga and Thandiwe Khumalo sat with *Rutendo outside her tiny shack in Alexandra township in Johannesburg.
Sitting on buckets and crates they watched a funeral procession in the distance.
A tearful and heavily pregnant Rutendo talked about how she wanted to abort her almost full‐term baby and end her own life too.
Esther and Thandiwe are both from the Ububele Educational and Psychotherapy Trust, a non‐governmental organisation working in Alexandra.
Its programmes for children, parents and other caregivers focus on improving the emotional development and wellbeing of children under seven.
Thandiwe isan Early Childhood Community Practitioner at Ububele. Part of her role is to visit pregnant women and mothers with newborn babies and help prepare them for the birth, work through their feelings about their baby, bond with the child, and assist with any difficulties.
It was on her way to a home visit that Thandiwe had seen the heavily pregnant Rutendo sobbing in the street. In talking to her, it emerged that Rutendo had been beaten up and kicked out of the house by her husband.
Thandiwe promptly started home visits with Rutendo. When she realised that the 21‐year‐old mother was suffering from depression to the point of being a suicide risk, psychologist Esther joined her on visits. A life of trauma Rutendo had suffered a lot of trauma in her life.
As a 10‐year‐old she found her mother’s lifeless body hanging from a tree. Struggling with HIV and mental health issues, she had committed suicide.
Later in life, Rutendo lost her first child. Esther relays Rutendo’s story: “Rutendo lived in rural Zimbabwe. One day she was out ploughing a field while her four‐month‐old daughter was cared for by an aunt. She got home and her baby was struggling to breathe, so she rushed her to the hospital. Her baby was strapped on her back in the taxi when a fellow passenger told her that her child was already dead.”
Not long after her baby’s death, Rutendo married and moved to South Africa with another man, and soon fell pregnant. Her husband frequently beat and raped her, left her alone at home for days at a time, didn’t buy food and drank heavily. “By the time we met Rutendo she was very depressed, desperate and suicidal. She didn’t know if she wanted this baby because of the loss of her previous child and the situation with her husband. She didn’t see a way out,” says Esther.
She didn’t know how she’d be able to provide anything physically or emotionally for the baby. She was also very lonely. She had no one to support her and very few resources.
Empowerment through therapy About two months after Rutendo first came into contact with Ububele, her baby daughter *Nyasha was born. Thandiwe and Esther continued with weekly visits for ten months ‐ until they were confident that she didn’t need support anymore. “Rutendo became really empowered,” explains Esther.
“She reported her husband to his father and to the police, something she had not she could do before. His father reprimanded him and eventually the physical abuse stopped, although the relationship is still cold and unloving. Rutendo found a job which makes her less dependent on him. She has decided to leave her husband and move back to Zimbabwe to live with his family, where she’ll be protected from him, while giving Nyasha a family.”
Most amazingly, Rutendo developed a special bond with Nyasha, the baby she didn’t want to have. “She was such an attuned mother,” say Esther. “She was sensitive towards Nyasha and would think about her feelings. And Nyasha was a healthy, lively girl who was growing so well and had such a healthy attachment with her mom.”
Over time, the Ububele team noticed that Rutendo’s tiny shack had been taken over by baby things. She decorated the walls with anything baby‐related, even Pampers and milk formula posters. “Rutendo said her hope for Nyasha was that she’d be well educated and have better opportunities than she’d had.”
It became clear that, through therapy and support,Rutendo dealt with her emotions in ways that her own mother couldn’t. “Her ability to deal with her experiences potentially saved her life,” said Esther.
It’s not often that Esther and Thandiwe get to see how their interventions end. “The end to our relationships with the people we work with are often very abrupt because they move or just stop coming. It’s really amazing to see a process through from the beginning to the end and see growth and real change,” says Esther.
Ububele interventions Esther explains how the home visits and parent‐Infant psychotherapy work. “The home visits are quite structured. Home visitors visit a mom four times before the baby is born to help her think about the baby, her expectations, and to see if she’s already bonding with the baby. It prepares her for what’s coming.”
Once the baby is born, ten more visits show the mom how intentional and social babies are, and help parents become attuned to their baby. “Some of the visits are just to check in on the mom and make sure she’s doing okay and has the support she needs.”
It’s when the home visitor feels that the mother is a suicide risk, has experienced a high level of trauma, or isn’t bonding with her baby that they’ll get a psychologist to join them on their visits.
This is where Ububele’s overlapping services are instrumental to providing the most appropriate support possible. “Those sessions are less structured and more therapeutic,” explains Esther.
“We assess the risk and refer the mom to a psychiatrist if necessary. We explore their history.
With Rutendo, we helped her to mourn the loss of her first baby ‐ something she had never done. We also looked at how she was parented and how that affected the way that she looked after her own child.”
Without this intervention there was a strong possibility that Rutendo would have ended her life and that of her baby. “At best, if she had kept the baby and hadn’t had therapy, the baby would’ve grown up with a very depressed mom and little attachment. This would’ve affected Nyasha as an adult.
She likely wouldn’t be able to form healthy relationships with other people,” says Esther. With Ububele’s interventions, both Nyasha and Rutendo have an opportunity to break free from a cycle of depression, detachment and despair – which affects their lives and those of everyone they have a relationship with.
Personal conflict is a common trend in South Africa and often a lifetime of pent-up rage and hatred is suddenly released in a single burst.
The results can be devastating. But there is a simple and effective solution that dates back to World War II – group sessions.
For 14 years, Alexandra-based NGO Ububele has successfully trained people to use group work to resolve conflict through its ‘Working with Groups’ course. Ububele founder and clinical psychologist Tony Hamburger set up a group training faculty in South Africa with assistance from experienced therapists from the UK.
Ububele’s training focuses on psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers because group work is an extremely successful and cost-effective intervention, which is underutilised in South Africa.
The group training sessions take place on six long weekends spread out across the year and are attended by people of different races, ages, sex and socio-economic backgrounds.
The curriculum consists of theory sessions, lectures on group work, and sessions where the students’ work situations can be examined and understood.
Participants do group work allowing them to better understand how individuals function in group situations. Through these group sessions people become more aware of their own behaviours, and can provide and receive feedback, support and practical advice from the group.
During the training, five sessions are held with small groups (maximum 11 people) where people can discuss anything. The dynamics in these sessions are meant to reflect those that are present in small social groups, like in a family.
Each day of training ends with a large group session, where all participants and Ububele faculty members meet.
The idea is that the large group sessions mimic large groups found in society, like political groupings.
Tony relays the story of a young man, *Mvelo, who attended the ‘Working with Groups’ course.
“Mvelo was an intelligent, hard‐working young man, but he had struggled academically, probably because of poor quality schooling. He got to the final year of his bachelor’s degree through correspondence with little help, before failing his exams. He seemed destined not to complete his studies.”
Mvelo had been doing volunteer work at the time he joined the Ububele course. He was an angry person. He felt that society had been particularly brutal to his family.
He had hardly known his father but was aware that he had been subject to prejudice. Mvelo seemed to carry a torch for his father and wanted revenge or reparation on his behalf. He was attracted to militant political organisations.
Mvelo attended small groups during his training. In the group sessions, Mvelo made small but balanced contributions. But when it came to race issues he became aggressive and talked about harming white people.
He had had contact with white people before and during the training and there hadn’t been an indication of his rage or of any violent actions. “This particular issue seemed to be an insular bubble of anger that festered and exploded at specific times.”
While it was apparent that his was a major and not illegitimate grievance, there was something about Mvelo’s reaction to conversations about race that seemed out of place. “I wondered if his rage wasn’t less about what happened to his father and more about anger at his father’s inconsistent availability.”
Mvelo’s therapy group of 10 people included a coloured woman, *Rowena, who had been a political activist. She shared stories about political anti-racist activities and spoke with a lot of insight, understanding and compassion.
Her position had asked of her to be violent at times. She shared a story of throwing a stone at a white woman, and becoming terribly upset when she saw the woman bleeding. She said she’d been conflicted by fighting for what was right, and hurting someone.
When Rowena shared her story, Mvelo was visibly interested. Rowena had earned credibility in his eyes because of her background, status and insights into the consequences of violence and hatred.
The impact on Mvelo was apparent to everyone. Over the year, we met several times. Each time, one could see Mvelo’s anger dissipating.”
According to Tony, Mvelo became more interested in the group activities and started talking about and with other people with more compassion. In the penultimate session, he turned to Rowena and told her that she’d been instrumental in helping him to understand his anger and hatred.
Hearing her stories and seeing how she dealt with her own internal conflicts helped Mvelo deal with his. “Mvelo told Rowena he wished she’d been his mother,” said Tony.
“It brought Rowena and the group to tears.”
By witnessing another’s conflict, and the manner in which the group process could be used to work with it, Mvelo developed a new deeper understanding of himself. “The rest of us immediately realised that somebody’s life had changed.”
Mvelo went on to get a major qualification and lives a fulfilling professional and personal life. “It’s clear that the group work had emotional significance to people who live in our very complicated country.”
*Name changed to protect identity.