Early in August we had our Ubaba Unathi training in Diepsloot. Only half of the group leaders turned up and it was decided to find a new date.
So we took the road to Brown’s house with a boot full of donations for the Green Door Safe Place for abused women and children. It’s going real slow.
First we encounter taxi after taxi. The road is busy and restless. We turn into a road going downhill. Still busy, but this time with street vendors and people seeking each other’s company. Muddy water run down the road and in some spots potholes became dongas. Houses, some made of brick, others of wood or corrugated iron, line the road. Laundry on the lines add colour. Rubbish are strewn like hundreds and thousands on a kid’s birthday cake…as many but definitely not as beautiful.
We turn into a quieter street, although still full of rubbish and muddy water. Stones scratch against the floor of the car when we park. We have to watch carefully where we put down our feet. I look up when I reach the gate of the Green Door. Two wendy homes and a small brick house fit into a neat row. Next to it is a 3-4 metre wide walking area – not one piece of rubbish to see. Brown unlocks the one wendy where we put down all the bags. A bed and a few pieces of other furniture fill the room – ready to receive and protect someone in danger. Humble, but beautiful.
I am humbled by this man who did not find excuses for what he doesn’t have or cannot do. He used what he had, where he was and created beauty and safety where nothing grows. He gave expression to God’s promise to exchange a crown of beauty for ashes.
Since the beginning of our involvement in Soshanguve and Diepsloot Patrick and Caroline WhatsApped me with questions and challenging situations of group members. I answered and gave advice, but in some situations we felt I needed to go with them to help address the challenges.
“At the same time I could really mentor them in practise!” was my thinking.
We visited 4 families:
• A man with disabilities who years to do something about the situation of other disabled people;
• A woman who is in a marriage which she described as being on an island with nowhere to go;
• A three generational family living together with little income and pots of friction;
• A 35 year old woman who doesn’t know who her father is and her mother refuses to tell her.
I listened and gave some advice or suggested resources with which I had contact. But at one point I just fell silent. I saw two ordinary people focussing with great concern on the stories which unfolded in front of us. I heard them giving sound advice. I felt the care and empathy they expressed in dealing with these people. They acknowledged the need to be listened to. And I…I was the learner.
I learnt that everyone has an important story, worth listening to.
I learnt that I might have the knowledge, but insight comes with living with those in need.
I learnt that teachability brings growth – as I saw in these two group leaders.
I learnt that a little bit of interest and effort is a huge encouragement…as if it loosens energy to bring about change.
Plus, plus, plus!
The outcome of the 4 visits:
• A radio talk, clothes and the attention of the local counsellor to help with the plight of the disabled. There is still much to be done;
• Patrick talked 10 minutes to the husband of the woman “on an island.” He became positively involved in his marriage;
• A mediator has been contacted to help solving the friction;
• The 35 year old woman wrote a letter to her mother and gave it to her in person. She requested to know who her father is. Her mother wrote a letter in which she revealed that she was raped. She named the man who was known to the woman. They cried together – acknowledging the sadness of the situation, but the relief to have this huge secret out of the way was incredible.
Being a mentor is a humbling learnership.
Today we had our second training session. Ubaba Unathi – Daddy with us – is about Father Involvement.
Without words I heard their plea: “Where are you Daddy? Please be with us…! Before we turned the first page, stories came tumbling out. D knew his father all along, but didn’t know he was his father, until he was 35 years old. A month later he died.
When F was 2 her father died and no memories were kept alive. “Women are stubborn.” Men don’t lead.” Men are sick.” Women are medicine.” Men are dogs.” Women keep fathers away from their children.” “Men need to pay damage after making a girl pregnant, otherwise – no contact.”
“No!” it cries in me. “No!” I see tears. Downcast eyes. Brokenness. The atmosphere is thick. “We have to do things different – start anew. We can’t change what happened to us, but we have to help each other and our group members to be different, involved fathers and supportive mothers to our children.”
The last task was to write down one or two positive things they experienced in relationship with their fathers. They sat quietly for a moment and then dropped the pretense: “Nothing. I know nothing about him.” “I never knew him.” “He taught me to drive, but further – nothing.” Only then I asked directly who had a positive relationship with their fathers.
One hand went up!
I have to remind myself that trees will grow out of these ashes…!
11th May took us to Diepsloot. 22 community members would be trained as Botswadi group leaders.
A small group of men and a single lady waited patiently outside the church. Kevin met them while I tried to come to terms with the tangible poverty. “Are these our people?” I wanted to know. “Certainly,” said Kevin.
Diepsloot is part of Johannesburg, but at the same time carries the feeling of being deep in Africa. Time, for one, is not an issue. The office lady was not there yet and no one knew where we should meet. We went to Diepsloot Mall to sort out refreshments and when we came back 45 minutes later, the crowd was bigger and the office open. At last we could sweep the floors of the meeting place, carry around tables and chairs, find some cups and get the coffee going.
Poverty sits deeper than clothing. Housing, language learning, possibility of skills development and exposure to role models of good family values and practises, are all affected by poverty. Poverty often excludes…! The upside of it all is a hunger for and appreciation of basic information and acceptance of themselves as they are. It also takes care of a few surprises!
One trainee has his own catering business and gets quickly the job to take care of refreshments for the group leaders’ meetings. Another one is a real activist and addresses almost every social injustice in Diepsloot! Yet another one was subsidised to start a “Green Door” safe place for abused women and children. Unfortunately he was left to his own devices to maintain the home financially. Funding is urgently needed. What is often seen as a place of violence and poverty, also seems to be a place where gems can be found and potential can be discovered and built upon.
Kevin Rutter, founder of Fathers in Africa and co-founder and co-leader of the Front Page Father Media Campaign, is the trainer in Diepsloot. He also trains the one group in Soshanguve.
I am Erna Rheeder, SAVF FAMNET coordinator as well as co-founder and co-leader of the Front Page Father Media Campaign. I train the other group in Soshanguve and I am mainly responsible for the administration of this exciting, worthy and hopeful project.