I feel energized and full of hope when I leave a meeting with two young fathers in Hout Bay, Cape Town. Their sons used to be the trouble-makers at school and the situations in their homes were not that good either. Through the Boy’s Quest program, the boys received support in their school-work and life skills training in a group where they were provided a safe space to talk about life and parents and expectations etc. in a group with other boys in a similar position. They also participated in a therapeutic camp where they started the journey to process the difficulties they were going through and so far had expressed by acting out in a destructive way. For parents, the program offers support groups, home-visits and referrals to parenting skills trainings. James House, that runs the program, have tried hard to engage one father figure for each boy in the program. That has not been easy since far from all the boys have one. And if they do, maybe not anyone who is prepared to participate in a program like this. So the two young men I meet are the exceptions. So far. They tell me how difficult it was to take the step and attend the program. How they did not want to sit in a group and talk about feelings… But then I realize, that all they do during our meeting is talking about feelings. They share some of their own complicated history with their fathers and how happy they are to see the change their sons are going through. And the change they are going through themselves. The relationship with their sons has improved so much! They communicate better and spend more time together. They are so proud of their sons, in a way that all parents should be, but I know that these kids seldom get the chance to hear this kind of praise. They talk a lot about how important it is to hug their kids and show how much they love them. And both fathers repeatedly say that they really want to be there not only for their own sons but also for other kids in the community since they know that there are so many children that lack a positive male role model. These two were brave enough to step forward to be part of a positive change for their children. And I feel confident that more will follow as soon as they hear these two!
There are so many impressions I would like to share from my travels. Those little moments that make you understand how much the projects we support mean for the children they work with. Conversations that make you understand both how much is possible to achieve and how much it takes to get there. Meetings that give you hope.
The little boy in a support group who asks me if I am the servant of the Queen and makes everybody laugh, but in the next moment reveals that his mother said that she would kill him because he is so naughty. He feels safe enough to both be the clown and show his tears.
The social worker, who instead of judging the mothers and grand-mothers whose children had to be taken into care because of behavioral problem, says that she is so impressed by how long they actually were able to cope without help. She is the right person in the right place.
The simple township church, full of mothers and small children, who have decided to come to a workshop discussing positive parenting, even though it is freezing cold and the rain is pouring down outside and you would think that everybody would choose to stay inside. But they come because it is just that important to them.
These are just a few of many of those moments.
I am in South Africa. It is winter, cold and dark and rainy. But I feel hopeful when I leave. There are so many good people reflecting on what they do and how and constantly improving their work. Change is going on. Things are getting better for so many children and families.
In my morning newspaper, the editorial complains about how difficult it is to assess the effects of development assistance. I get to work and the same day I read two reports from our partner-organizations and am so proud to read about results on so many levels. The services we support reaches children and families most in need and definitely makes a difference in many people’s lives.
I read about how the Child Rights Bureau in Sweden with our support has developed the first practical children’s advocacy service in Sweden. One of the cases is a girl who after years of sexual abuse finally disclosed and instead of getting the support she needed from different authorities, found herself in a situation where everybody claimed that she was someone else’s responsibility. The Child Rights Bureau stayed with her throughout her difficult time and helped her getting the support she was entitled to. Isn’t that a result?
I read the impressing report from Philani Nutrition Centre in South Africa, an organization that we have supported for almost ten years. Philani annually helps around 5000 children and pregnant mothers and a randomized control study has shown significantly improved health and well-being for the mothers and babies who are part of their home-visiting program. But that’s just numbers. Behind those numbers are stories that illustrate the complexity and hard work behind those figures. For example this one told by one of the home-visitors:
“One day when I was doing house to house visits a remote rural village accessed only by a gravel road, I found the family M with a pregnant 20-year old and a 16 year old with an underweight child suffering from tuberculosis. They live in one room with their mother and father. The eldest daughter told me to finish early because she was afraid of the father coming inside; they did’t want any people entering the house. I returned another day and asked why they didn’t want the father to know that I was visiting. The 20 year old replied that her father sexually abuses both of them and she is pregnant with his child and HIV positive”.
After several visits, the home-visitor helps them to get medical treatment, she convinces the grand-mother that she needs to help her daughters get away from her abusive husband and finally she helped them move out. They are now getting the treatment they need and are safe from abuse.
Isn’t that a result?