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Siyabanakekele: Strengthening the Wounded Carer

By michelle - Posted on 22 June 2010

Siyabanakekele seeks to support those who are in care giving roles in the community and in organisations through training, mentoring and “caring for carers".

In 2011 we revisited all our work with various levels and categories of care giving and decided to bind it together with a common thread- Siyabanakekele or “Strengthening the Wounded Carer”. Care giving is a form of healing that is not often recognized as such. The work of parents, grandmothers, home-based care workers, child and youth care workers, counsellors and the like is seen as mundane, repetitive and taken-for-granted, staking no claim to heroism or sainthood. And yet we believe that it is in the daily caring for people- wiping noses, preparing lunch boxes, attending school meetings, tucking in, listening to and telling stories, drying tears, and simply being consistently available, that the real power of healing lies.

“Strengthening the wounded carer” implies first of all recognizing the critical value of caring for the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society. Without such caring a society loses its humanity, its intrinsic worthiness, its place in the human family. The concept also encompasses the inevitable wounded-ness of all human beings, including those who, in whatever capacity and for whatever reason, have taken on the task of caring for others.  It is not the fact of our wounded-ness that poses the risk to those we care for, but rather our un-awareness of the wounds and our unwillingness to uncover what we may believe hurts too much. The programme “Siyabanakekele: Strengthening the Wounded Carer” addresses the reality of the wounded-ness of the carer and offers opportunities to carers to transform their own “experience with loneliness, depression and fear” into a “true gift for others” (Henry Nouwen, in The Wounded Healer, 1979).

It is made up of a number of different components.

Strengthening the Wounded Community Carer through Training

The Healing Through Training Programme reached a total of 163 individuals in the second half of the year- from Child line counsellors, to East Rand activists, to high school learners and home-based care workers. Training and healing are seen as going hand in hand, as we believe that while technical skills can be processed through the head, the real tools of caring (congruence, warmth, empathy) can only be effectively attained when carers recognize and acknowledge  and manage their own wounded-ness. The following “healing through training activities” have taken place in 2011:

  • As happens every year, Mpumi again ran a basic counselling skills course over six weeks with 15 home-based care workers coordinated through the Diocesan AIDS Commission.
  • Fourteen caregivers from faith-based organizations, most of them already trained in basic counselling skills in previous years, were trained in dealing with grief and loss.
  • Quarterly debriefing sessions for senior caregivers in home based care organizations continued throughout the year.
  • The Leaders in Shaping programme for high school learners reached a total of 44 learners from the Selelekela, Riverlea, Noordgesig and Westbury Noordgesig and Westbury High Schools. Another 22 learners who have been part of the programme for the past three years “graduated” with an evaluation camp in September, during which the learners identified three main areas of growth: a change in values and attitudes, increased self-confidence and the ability to articulate views and feelings, and self-management and leadership skills.
  • A series of eight self-awareness workshops for gay, lesbian and transgendered activists working in East Rand townships under the auspices of the Equality Project was run in the second half of the year and made us painfully aware of the emotional impact of social exclusion based on sexual preference- an exclusion that continues to expose people to “corrective rape”, harassment, extreme social isolation and even murder, and the enormous need for psycho-social support programmes for those most affected.

Strengthening the Wounded Carer by Providing Safe Therapeutic Spaces

Another aspect of strengthening the wounded carer is the creation of safe spaces in which carers can meet, explore issues together, support each other, and come to craft their very own journeys of healing and growth.


In 2011, Siyaphumelela, a monthly debriefing for home based care givers coming from different organisations under the umbrella of the Catholic Church, took place in Rockville, Soweto. The numbers fluctuate between 15 and 20 participants but there was a significant stable core of about 14. Most of the care givers have never been to workshops like this before or any other kind of personal growth opportunity. Some of the issues that the care givers are dealing with in their daily lives are the plight of orphaned children, old people who are not taken care of, parents who are not caring for their children properly, patients dying, patients refusing to take their medication or not having food to take their medication with and general poverty – including their own lack of resources. Some are caring for their own sick family members; some have suffered recent bereavements; some are struggling to feed their own families. Quite a number of the participants also have to deal with being HIV positive themselves. Each month there is an art based activity that helps participants explore some aspect of their emotional life. An afternoon Biodanza session was also introduced once the group was properly established to bring an element of fun, interaction and connection with the body and self expression through dance and movement.

A new Siyaphumelela group will be started in March 2012 In Mountain View.

Directors Circle

The Director’s Circle is an attempt to address the need for emotional and collegial support for directors of small to medium service organizations. Although directors unanimously expressed the need for support and appreciated the space provided when they made use of it, it has been very difficult to get a consistent commitment from participants. Moreover, the diversity of backgrounds and approaches (charity, “mission”, social justice) made it quite difficult to find common ground and, while there was much catharsis, many issues need to be explored and processed in much more depth.

Residential Care Givers Debriefings

The purpose of the debriefing workshops is to provide a safe and confidential space for care workers, who work in residential shelters which provide care for vulnerable women and children, to explore themselves, to express emotion and feelings, to feel supported by the facilitator and the group, to be taken care of, and to have fun and learn new things.

The assumption is that when care workers have a place to be listened to and taken care of, then there is more space emotionally inside them to be more present and less reactive to those in their care. It is also a space where new ways of interacting are being modelled by the facilitator.

While the therapeutic processes of the workshops help the participants to explore the difficult feelings and emotions, it also important to work with processes that make people feel good and connected with themselves and each other.

As the process proceeds, we also explore and reflect on different ways in which to act and react to fellow colleagues, those in their care and even their own family members.

The facilitators use Art Therapy processes and Biodanza, which is an integrated, creative and therapeutic dance and movement methodology. Exploring the self and relationships with others in the group in a non verbal way through movement and music creates the space for experiencing the joy of being alive and feeling supported and accepted by others.

Strengthening the Wounded Parent through Parent Lekgotlas

Poverty, disease, bereavement, forced displacement and many other social problems tend to undermine parenting power, with parents often not having the material, emotional or social resources to provide the kind of care that is appropriate for a child’s developmental stage and needs. Parent lekgotlas are one attempt to get parents and other primary care givers together to explore and share their own childhood wounds and to relate these to common parenting challenges (rebellious children; difficulties in accessing schooling; problems with learning and behaviour; sexual acting out  etc.), while at the same time using the opportunity to create awareness of the developmental needs of children; the contextual demands of growing up poor in a world-class city; and the intergenerational and intercultural conflicts families are inevitably exposed to.

Six parent lekgotlas, each attended by between 20 and 60 parents were held in the East during the year. These have focused on access to schooling; positive discipline; children’s rights and responsibilities; parent’s rights and responsibilities; and the alignment of cultural child-rearing practices within a human right framework. One of the most evident outcomes of these meetings is that refugee parents in particular have become much more assertive in confronting officials in schools and health facilities when they are denied the right to services.

On the West a new project aims to find a way to accesss hard to reach parents through a specifaclly designed programme for parents that will run during the holidays.

Contact details

Address: 4 Lancaster St, Westdene, 2092

Tel: +27 11 4828530

Fax: +27 11 4828530

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