When you think of our boys growing up on the Cape Flats, what comes to mind? Gangster? Rude? Naughty? Drop-out? Teenage father? Skollie? Murderer? Dead young?
Over the years, we have worked with many at-risk boys who are dabbling in high-risk behaviours such as drugs, crime, truancy and so much more. Those labels that are often given to our young boys and men on the Cape Flats are not new. In fact, many of our boys and young men carry those labels and apply them to themselves. And yet, as Arise, we work hard to strip those labels and highlight the strengths that we see in them. However, when we point out the strengths in these boys, despite the chaos and darkness we face, we see the light shine across their faces. Even if it is brief at times. You see, a boy who gets five other boys to bunk school with them – that is a strong leader. A young man, writes graffiti on his desk; that is a potential artist. A boy who demands what he wants and won’t budge, well that is determination. Though they might not use it in the way that is positive right now, we know there is potential and when we point this out to them that’s when we know we have attention. They want to know what else we can see within them.
Recently, we were reminded of this while packing up after a group at a school on the Cape Flats – a group in which the children’s trauma assessment scores are the same as any child you would find in a warzone similar to the Ukraine & Syria. A lady came up to me and chatted to me knowingly. I introduced myself and she responded; “I know who you are, Alexa. You and I have met and you helped me so much. I still talk about what Arise did.” I blinked at her a few times, asking if she was sure it was me and not another social worker? Desperately wracking my brain until we realized it was in 2020. It was in a time of masks and meetings outside under trees. It was a time when Arise had to be creative in how we supported the families in our broader community spaces – where our groups had to pause and risk assessments for families of concern were done while dropping off food parcels and engaging with families.
This lady and her foster son, a family member’s child, had arrived at the offices where we were based. He had been beaten by an educator in the community (another teacher suffering from burnout and overwhelmed with the many boys with behavioural problems). He was in school but wasn’t feeling safe enough to return to school and was showing behavioural challenges at home as well. We spoke about referring her to the local child protection services (and wrote a letter), as well as normalized some of his responses. We gifted her a family strengthening kit aka “The Box” in which there were strategies to deal with hard conversations, talk about feelings and strengthen relationships – and to have fun!
As I am standing by the car, hearing how a short conversation and some tools, helped his foster mother see him – see him beyond the behavior, see him for who he was and why he was choosing certain behaviours. This small gesture made all the difference to this family’s life and the relationship they now have. This boy did not need to be removed, he did not have to continue wearing the labels people put on him, or the labels that he put on himself. No, he was seen – they were seen and now they are thriving.
2 years later, he is still making use of the strategies and resources in the “The Box”.
2 years later, he was still in school and doing well.
2 years later, the person who beat him had been held accountable for their actions within the community.
2 years later, this foster mother looked me in the eye and said we belong to each other and our family is a good place to be; our relationship is strong. All because of a few simple words of encouragement and the practical tools given by Arise.
Except it’s not because of Arise – it’s because of the work they did using the skills and opportunity offered by Arise. Because of a donor who ensured that we had sufficient Family Strengthening Kits to mitigate the lack of in person interventions that Covid led to.
2 years later I now remember her and her son – he shares an unusual name with a friend of mine.
In the midst of all the headlines and challenges, we are not hopeless.
There are stories of hope and love and belonging.
*If you are interested in knowing more about our Family Strengthening Kits, you can purchase one for yourself and one for a family that we work with. To find out more, go to https://arisefamily.thinkific.com/courses/family-strengthening-kit