Author: arisefamilycentre

Rugby World Cup Glory: Inspiring Hope in South Africa

For those who do not know me, I am a rugby nut…I have loved the game since I was a little girl with my family and I still remember being a little girl on my dad’s shoulders running down the street celebrating the 1995 World Cup. At the time, I didn’t as a young child realise the significance of us winning the cup- the hope it brought to a nation that had been divided for so long, the hope it brought many to see a black president hold up the cup with a white rugby leader and the message it gave to all those watching.  

Fast Forward to 2023, and again the winning of the trophy brought tears to me eyes, as I watched player after player that was being interviewed relay the message that they played for the love of the game but also for the 62 million South Africans supporting them- they did it to bring us hope.

After the high of seeing the Springboks hold up the trophy and eventually putting the kids to bed, I couldn’t go to sleep. I kept watching replays, watching the post game interviews and I started to reflect on what I have learnt while watching the 2023 Rugby World Cup and here’s what I have learnt from the Springbok Spirit:

  1. Perseverance: How many times did we think we were about to loose? The last 3 games were tough but watching the team continue to defend, continue to adapt to what is in front of them was so inspiring. We won by one point and yes, commentators would think that it is not good enough but what I saw was a team who never gave up. Kept the hope alive and showed that they could deliver despite difficult circumstances.
  2. Teamwork: What I love about the Springboks is everyone knows their role, and when it was your turn to show up-you show up and give it your all.  We saw it when Handre Pollock came in, when Ox Nche came in for the scrums. Each of them knew their role, each other’s strengths and weaknesses, learning from each other, supporting and encouraging each other. They worked hard on their plan, communicated well on the field and pushed together when the going got tough.
  3. Diversity: Every player has a story that brought them to the team, each of them different, each of them celebrated and brings strength to the team because of it. Siya Kolisi said it best, “Our differences are our strength as a nation and as a team.” The team also reflects the story of so many South Africans from passionate schoolboy rugby players to a rural boy’s dream to play to a boy on the Cape Flats striving for success to a boy who lost family members to one day have a whole country to call family. The Springboks show that each person’s story matters, each person’s background, language and belief matters because that is the fullness of who they are.
  4. Respect: Respect for each other but also respect for who they are playing against. After every game listening to both the coaches and players commend the teams that they played against is something to be admired. Even when those teams weren’t very friendly to us we kept our heads high and focused on their strengths as competitors. A moment that stood out for me is after we played Tonga, how we came together to pray and acknowledge Tonga’s hard journey into the world tournament and an amazing tough 80 minutes it was.
  5. Empathetic Leadership: Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Neinabauer are amazing strategists and have been innovative with the game, but it wouldn’t be possible to implement if they didn’t gain the trust of the players. One could see that the players trust the coaches with their lives and part of that is that they got to know each player and their story and what they needed to be stretched, comforted and to develop as strong players, and this has been role modeled in Siya Kolisi who does the same on the field.
  6. One caring person can change someone’s life: Learning about each player’s story many of their stories such as Siya Kolisi and Makazole Mapimpi are miraculous stories as South Africans playing on the world stage. But it is evident to why Arise works the way we do- we believe that one caring adult can change the trajectory of a child’s life-be it a parent, a teacher, a coach someone who keeps motivating and creating a nurturing environment where a child feels safe and so that they can take risks to succeed and thrive.
  7. Resilience: The Springboks were the underdog yet again in the World Cup and on top of that we faced many challenges. It is safe to say the Springboks had one of the hardest paths to the final- with the pool of death (facing Ireland and Scotland), then the hosts-France who were aiming to win on home ground, and then England. The game against England brought it’s on own challenges with the European media focusing on the allegations of racism again Bongi Mbonambi the week before the final.Then the final when Bongi was injured within 3 min of the game and then Siya Kolisis and Cheslin Kobe with a yellow card…it was brutal. But they learnt to adapt, problem-solve, implement new plans and a never give up attitude.
  8. Role Model: Safe to say that Siya Kolisi is one of the biggest role models to all in South Africa- his love for his teammates, his competitors, the game, the supporters and mostly for the country he represents is evident. But the whole team are role players to all of us as adults but also to our young boys and girls who watch in awe. My eight-year-old son after watching the final said, “Mommy, they really didn’t give up they kept going, I don’t know if I can.”
  9. Continuous Improvement: There’s always room for growth. Again, I am a bit of a rugby nut so watching post interviews it is humbling to hear Jacque Nienabauer say, ‘please don’t call us geniuses, we are not we try something and see if it works if it doesn’t we improve the best we can.”  The Springboks knows that even with the win there needs to be an improvement in dominating the game rather than always playing catch up.
  10. Faith: Faith in each other, faith in their abilities and faith in what they have prepared for but most importantly, putting their faith in God who brought them to this point. It is no surprise to many to see the team praying before and after acknowledging that there is something bigger than them.

Though the Springboks have inspired us, I do agree with Penuel The Black Pen who wrote: “It is unfair of us ordinary South Africans to keep demanding the Springboks to give us hope through their victories, when we don’t meet them halfway.”  So, we need to take what the Springboks have shown us and apply it in every way possible so that we can make South Africa a great country because we have the potential to do it.  I hope as our President Cyril Ramaphosa raised the trophy that he too can bring these lessons into our current government so we can apply this to our handling our education crisis, energy crisis, crime and violence, unemployment issues and so on.

So that next time we win the World Cup our players can stop saying “there are so many problems in South Africa and we do it to bring them hope” but rather…”we have come through so much as a country, we want to show everyone else in the world that there is hope.”

But for me, as the director of Arise I constantly think about how we can motivate and inspire the families and children that we work with who are in our most high risk and violent communities in the Western Cape and where hope is waning.  The Springbok winning the World Cup brings practical lessons that they too can learn in their own lives. That unfortunately, we cannot get rid of our problems or the adversity we face- we need to show up and work through it. They can draw on the importance of working together, adapting, problem-solving, having and being one caring adult to a child who needs it, having and being a role model and having empathy for each other so that we can build and create that sense of belonging for all.

For me the 10 learnt lessons from above, bring us back to our five main pillars that is a firm foundation in all our programmes as an organization:

  1. Deepening relationships
  2. Nurturing strengths
  3. Growing problem-solving skills
  4. Building resilience
  5. Develop a sense of belonging for all

As we ride the high wave of being World Champions, may you bring the Springbok spirit into your lives as a South African and to remember that we are Stronger Together.

Written by Danielle Moosajie (Director of Arise)

Nurturing Identity: The Significance of Heritage and Roots in a Child’s Life

This past Sunday we celebrated Heritage Day in South Africa, though for us Capetonians our day was poured out due to the storm so not much braaing done on this side of the country. Heritage Day on the 24th September holds particular importance in South Africa’s post-apartheid as it’s aims to promote unity, cultural diversity, and inclusivity within the nation.

I was reminded of this as we are doing diversity training in more affluent local schools in the city about why the importance of heritage and understanding your roots is vital particularly for children of colour in not only understanding themselves but feeling confident in who they are.

As Arise we have spent the last 14 years speaking on the importance of identity in adoption, however this is so true for every child. Every child to know where they come from, to feel proud of their background and to know and understand others as well. Because when we know who we are and feel good about ourselves then we are then open to learning about others and accepting them for who they are.

Identity is a complex interplay of factors that shape who we are as individuals. Among these factors, our heritage and roots play a pivotal role in grounding us and helping us understand our place in the world. For children who are not being raised by their biological families, the need to connect with their heritage becomes even more significant. In this blog, we will explore why heritage and roots are essential for a child’s identity, particularly for those growing up in non-biological family settings. We will also provide practical tips for caregivers and children to foster this vital connection.

The Significance of Heritage and Roots

Understanding one’s heritage provides a deep sense of belonging. It helps children feel connected to a larger community, whether that’s a cultural, ethnic, or familial group. This belongingness contributes to a stable sense of identity, which is crucial for self-esteem and self-worth. As many of you who have attended our conferences or workshops over the years, you will know that we emphasise the importance of positive self-identity (and in transracial families, we want the child who is of a different race to have positive racial identity) and so this takes conscious thought and deliberate action. We need to be intentional of the spaces we create for our children and ensure that they see themselves in those spaces.

Heritage forms a substantial part of a person’s cultural identity. It provides a framework for understanding cultural practices, values, and traditions. Embracing one’s heritage can help a child feel more connected to their cultural community.

Knowing where one comes from helps in forming a more resilient sense of self. It provides a reference point when faced with questions about identity, helping children navigate these challenges more confidently.

Understanding one’s roots enables a child to appreciate the struggles and triumphs of their ancestors. This knowledge can inspire and motivate them as they grow, fostering a sense of pride in their heritage. I know this is true for me, knowing what my family had to endure during apartheid made me understand some of their childhood traumas and how this has affected their relationships and interpersonal skills. This then

Practical Tips for Encouraging Connection to Heritage

So how do we encourage connection to our children’s heritage and roots. Encourage storytelling within the family. Share anecdotes, tales of ancestors, and family history. This helps children understand their roots and the experiences of those who came before them.

Embrace cultural holidays, festivals, and traditions. Participating in cultural events and rituals can be a powerful way for children to connect with their heritage. Be curious together. Don’t just let your child do all the work but do it together connect over learning and celebrate the differences within your families too.

If applicable, encourage the child to learn the language associated with their heritage, but do this together if you do not know the language either. When you only let your child learn the language this can ostracize the child making the child feel left out. Language is a significant part of cultural identity and can open doors to deeper connections.

Food is often a gateway to heritage. Cook traditional dishes together and explain their significance. This can be a fun and delicious way to explore one’s roots. If you have adopted or fostered children ask them do you think their first family likes the food, bring back to their stories and have a fun open way of talking about the fullness of who they are which includes their first starting points in their lives. If you have older children in your care who might remember some of their family food, ask them and try and make it together- it’s a great way of honouring those memories too.

If possible, visit historical or cultural sites related to the child’s heritage. This hands-on experience can make history come alive and create lasting memories. In South Africa we are blessed to have so many of these sites- understanding our history. The Slave Museum, Robben Island, Voortrekker Monument, and the District Six Museum in Cape Town are just a few.

Explore literature, books, and films that reflect the child’s heritage. This can be an engaging way to learn about history, customs, and values. Arise has a whole collection of books and resources. Go look at our resource list to get started. As the adults in children’s lives, it is important to create an environment where the child feels comfortable asking questions about their heritage. Be open and patient when discussing topics related to identity.

Help the child create a heritage scrapbook or digital archive. This can include family trees, photographs, and mementos that celebrate their cultural background. Don’t know where to start I would highgly recommend you in doing our Life Story Course online, you can do this at your own time and space as well as practical skills and tools to get started.

Most importantly, be supportive if and when the child expresses interest in exploring different aspects of their identity. Encourage them to learn about and embrace their heritage at their own pace.

Heritage and roots are the foundation upon which a child’s identity is built. For children who are not being raised by their biological families, connecting with their heritage becomes even more critical. By nurturing this connection through storytelling, cultural celebrations, language, and community involvement, caregivers can empower children to embrace their heritage and form a strong and resilient sense of self. In doing so, we can help these children navigate the complex journey of identity formation with confidence and pride.

Have questions please email us at

Written by Danielle Moosajie (Director)

Remembering Our Boys: Inclusivity in the Pursuit of Gender Equality

As we are ending Women’s Month and we look at the role of women in this country as well as ensuring that women have equal rights and opportunities- it is essential that we include everyone in this conversation. This month, I was invited into the corporate sector to give my views on the challenges one faces as a woman leader. As I was speaking, I realise that we can’t just be talking to women but that in the journey towards achieving gender equality and eradicating gender-based violence, it’s essential to remember that the fight isn’t just for one gender—it’s for everyone. While the focus on women’s rights and empowerment is crucial, we must also acknowledge the importance of including boys and addressing the challenges they face in this equation. By ensuring that our efforts encompass the wellbeing of all genders, we can build a more just and equitable society for everyone.

When we look at gender-based violence in this country, we need ask ourselves why violence is so prevalent, why is it one of our biggest issues and why are men who are the perpetrators of such crime usually extremely violent towards their victims? The scary thing is we are seeing this in our groups in schools, we are seeing boys as young as 7 stabbing each other in the head with pencils, we are seeing the celebration of violence towards each other and now seeing more girls join gangs and acting out in violence than ever before. We see that by excluding boys from the conversation surrounding gender-based violence, we miss an opportunity to address the root causes that affect everyone. Inclusive advocacy acknowledges the complex interplay of societal norms, toxic masculinity, and traditional gender roles that contribute to violence.

But it isn’t just with gender-based violence it has to do with leadership roles as well. I have often struggled as a woman in leadership particularly for men to take me seriously in what I have to say or present not only in the NGO sector but corporate sector too. I would end up in tears wondering what it is wrong with me? And often the advice I got from other females in the field is that I have to think like a man and act like a man. This got me thinking over the years, what if we just taught both genders how to treat each other equally? By dismantling gender stereotypes and providing equal opportunities for all, we can pave the way for a brighter future marked by inclusive, effective, and empathetic leadership.

The reality is that society often assigns rigid gender roles that can limit both girls and boys. While girls have historically been affected by discriminatory norms, boys too face their own set of challenges. Boys are often told to suppress their emotions, to “be a man” and not show vulnerability. These expectations can lead to toxic masculinity, negatively impacting their mental health and overall wellbeing. In advocating for gender equality, we need to encourage boys to embrace their emotions and recognize that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.

We have seen this time and time again in our psychosocial programmes particularly our “Man in the Mirror Programme” (a group for teen boys becoming the man they want to be). It is here, that they start challenging the norms that society (including families and communities) have put onto them and start reflecting on who they want to be and what they mean in terms of their behaviour. For example, if they want to be men of integrity how do they show it to others, if they want to be a good father what does that mean, if they want to be men of honesty what does that look like day-to-day?

Majority of the children we work with do not have positive male role model in their lives and it is essential for all children that when they witness men who exhibit kindness, integrity, and resilience, they learn to develop healthy self-esteem and recognize the value of these qualities in themselves. Whether fathers, uncles, grandfathers, teachers, mentors, or community figures, these role models contribute to the holistic development of children, nurturing their emotional, intellectual, and social growth in unique ways. Positive male role models provide children, especially boys, with a framework for building their identity. These role models exhibit traits and behaviours that children can aspire to emulate, fostering a strong sense of self.

But also, for young girls to see men, hold up women as equals in the workplace, to respect them in the home, to be heard, validated and take a women’s roles into account builds self-worth and role-models what it looks like for men and women to work together and not against each other. It is important to note that as adults in the world, we role model constantly to all children what to expect from each other. By positive male role models nurturing young girls’ ambitions, these role models help break down societal barriers and norms that historically restricted women’s involvement in leadership roles. Their support validates girls’ potential and sends a powerful message: that everyone, regardless of gender, deserves an equal chance to lead.

To truly achieve gender equality, we must enlist boys as allies in the fight against gender-based violence. By educating boys about consent, respect, and healthy relationships, we equip them to challenge harmful behaviours and attitudes. Teaching boys to be allies empowers them to recognize injustice and contribute to creating a society where everyone can live free from violence and discrimination.

Incorporating discussions about gender equality and gender-based violence into educational curricula is vital. By raising awareness from a young age, we can help boys understand the importance of treating all individuals with respect, regardless of gender. These discussions can also provide boys with the tools they need to navigate complex social situations and be advocates for change.

Gender-based violence affects individuals of all genders. Male survivors often face unique challenges, including societal disbelief and stigma. Supporting male survivors means acknowledging their experiences, providing safe spaces for them to share their stories, and ensuring that they have access to resources for healing and recovery.

Gender equality and women’s rights is a collective goal that benefits everyone. To create a society free from gender-based violence and discrimination, we must remember that the fight extends to boys as well. By challenging harmful stereotypes, providing education, and fostering a culture of respect and empathy, we can create an environment where all individuals, regardless of gender, can thrive and contribute positively to society. In our pursuit of gender equality, let’s ensure that we uplift and empower boys to be part of the solution alongside girls, building a brighter future for everyone.

Written by Danielle Moosajie (Director)

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Beyond Charity: Embracing Dignity in Our Giving on Mandela Day

In South Africa, July is synonymous with winter and Mandela Day. Every year, different campaigns are launched with the 67 minutes themes and opportunities. 67 minutes to honor the years of struggle against apartheid.

As South Africans who were witness to the change in democracy, this day can evoke memories but also provoke discussion and thought, as well as action.  What does it look like in 2023 to reflect on a just and equitable South Africa for all? What does it mean for people who are living in highly vulnerable circumstances in 2023?

There is constant debate around where we are as a nation in 2023, this can leave one feeling overwhelmed with the state of the nation and what to do for those we see or know in desperate need of clothing, shelter, food and so much more. So days like Mandela Day afford opportunities to reflect on both the need as well as what is needed so that things can change. The call to lessen vulnerability with practical hope, rather than hope as a philosophical ideal is needed.

Practically what could this look like?  

It means identifying real needs within community spaces – whether children’s homes or geographical areas that need to be responded to.  Real needs identified by the people themselves rather than what we see in comparison or feel as people looking in might be helpful. Development research repeatedly points to the fact that people know what they need but the power dynamics between those who have more in terms of resources (including money) vs those who need the resources make it hard to formalize or articulate these needs.

It means seeing the holistic impact of the giving we do and being honest about who it is for.  Even as a social worker – I appreciate the impact of the work we do, can weep when things don’t work but recognize that it is not altruistic- rather that I see and experience value in the work we do. I get something out of this – it makes me feel good to see people not need us – the unspoken role of social workers:  to work oneself out of a job.

Practically, it means reflecting on the way in which the story of giving is told.  Are people’s vulnerabilities and raw need shown up so that the gifts being given evoke a response – or is the story being told of a dynamic such as hunger that has a response for that moment or day being seen.  This isn’t to detract from the giving – rather to ask the question of how is this giving put into a context which can be empowering to the recipients? Not just for short-term relief but as a part of something bigger.

The how we tell a story includes the visual imagery too – the photos or videos.  As the director of Arise, Danielle Moosajie, often challenges us in meetings and strategic conversations:  Would you want people to see you in your vulnerability?  Where you have no control over what is understood or received in communication about us?  This can feel like a challenge when photographic evidence is understood to be a part of accountability towards donors  and yet what a beautiful opportunity exists to rethink how we are held accountable. An opportunity for a more dignified and positive strengths based partnership rather than highlighting people at their most vulnerable.

An example of this could be telling a story of how contributing snack packs formed part of a group process aimed at strengthening families who live in areas of food insecurity due to poverty.  It makes the poverty the challenge and not the people.  It reflects work being done in the space which is proactive rather than only identifying the broken or challenging family relationships.  It changes and empowers the recipients of the giving as active participants in their lives rather than requiring them to be rescued by others.

The reality is that giving (in all forms), financial donors and partnerships are necessary in reducing the gaps between different spaces.  In giving, opportunities exist for both parties, giver and recipient to both receive and give. Giving provides an opportunity for each person to press into a different aspect of their own humanity or to remember:

Umuntu ngumuntu  ngabantuwe are people through other people.

When we hold onto this, it changes how we give and see the recipients of our gifts as well as how the dynamic of dignified giving can change not only circumstances, but allows for us to invest in a bigger story too.

The story of helping is to see each other’s humanity as we seek to see a more just and equitable South Africa.

Written by Alexa Russell Matthews

The Power of Group Work: Restored Relationships & Fierce Leaders

A grandmother came to our family support group regularly.  She was struggling, raising two grandchildren on only her pension and with limited support from the rest of the family.  They were her blood, but the generation gap only seemed to get bigger as they grew and she was struggling with her grandchildren’s ongoing disrespect and bad attitude.

It was with this message that Sara and her grandmother came into our counselling room for an intake regarding taking part in our group called Worthy.  Worthy is a group for teen girls and their caregivers that aims to build their relationship and attachment with each other, while helping the teen girls build their self-esteem.  It’s a group we’ve seen run successfully with many families and we hoped to see a turnaround for Sara and her grandmother too.

But Sara refused to participate if her gran was there.  That is how bad their relationship had become.  Sara said her grandmother didn’t understand her, and too many stupid rules and had a problem with everything she did. She did not want to be in the same room as her grandmother, let alone work on relationship building activities.  I spent some time with Sara one on one and could see how hurt she was.  Things weren’t just hard at home.  She was on the verge of being kicked out of school too.  Her attitude to authority was getting into trouble.  She was defiant and oppositional and falling very behind in her school work.  Everyone in her world seemed to be giving up on Sara and while she was trying to portray a flippant, no care attitude, inside she was hurt and scared and struggling.

Together, we decided to try a slightly different strategy.  Sara agreed to attend our Fierce group at her school and to family meeting between her and her grandmother so that we could work on developing a number of rules, routines and ways of talking to each other that were more respectful.  I hoped this strategy would work and get u to a point where these two could work together instead of against each other.  We drew up a list of goals, agreed on some words and phrases and actions that both agreed not to use with each other and a message box they could use to communicate with each other.  We also agreed that Sara and her grandmother would meet with me every 2 weeks and we would see how things went.

And so we met, a few times a month, working on communicating with respect, appropriate rules and boundaries, ways to grow the relationship and deepen connection and ways for this grandmother to give her grandchildren some of the freedoms they craved.  The power of hearing not just the negative, but remarks about her positive contributions to the family really helped Sara put down her defences and open up.  Perhaps for the first time, Sara felt seen – and that is a powerful thing in a relationship.  

I could see Sara start to believe in herself, as those around her showed her they believed in her too.  She started to apply the goals we focus on in our Fierce programme, growing her self-confidence, practicing healthy self-talk, overcoming peer-pressure, being a role model for others and living by her own values with a sense of integrity.  And she very slowly began to take the first steps to thriving. She started doing her school work, handing it in and staying in class.  She started saying no to those who sort to influence her to miss school.  She started being home on time and was less rude to her grandmother.  Her teachers noticed this and soon she was no longer being threatened with expulsion.

This family started doing so well that our family meetings became less frequent as they got involved more with those outside of their immediate family.  And soon we stopped seeing them all together. A few months later, I phoned to check in and see how the family was doing and schedule a follow-up.  Sara’s grandmother had nothing but praise for her granddaughter and the young lady she had become.  She said that Sara was at a school meeting and wasn’t home, but promised to get her to phone me back.  And she did!  Sara phoned back to say she couldn’t come to my scheduled follow up as she was going to be away on camp.  She had been elected to be part of the school leadership team (SRC) and was excited about what this meant for her as she entered her final year of school.  Sara was making plans to study after she finished matric and had set up what she needed to apply for bursaries and funding, with the help of her extended family.  I hung up the phone smiling and bursting to tell my colleagues about Sara’s success, with her permission of course!  

This is the power of the work we do – relationships are healed, a sense of belonging and attachment is fostered, people find their true sense of self and even in adverse circumstances they flourish.  This too is the power of groups.  To help others see they are not alone and to learn the skills they need to move forward on their own terms.  This is why Arise will continue to grow and develop our services and programmes in partnership with others so that even more families can thrive.  Because by supporting families you can change the community around them!

The Trauma of School

It was the second week in a row that I noticed a learner across the room in our group falling asleep on his backpack in his seat.  My co-facilitator and I nodded at each other and Jake and I went and sat outside for a minute.

Me:  Jake, what is going on?  This is not how I have gotten to know you over the past few months.

Jake:  I am struggling, Miss. I am not sleeping. I hear bullets in my head all the time… But also I am not sure whether I must pray or what I must do.  I am afraid of what is happening.  We are going to die like this. 

Me:  Jake, I know there has been a lot going on, but has something happened more recently that made things feel too much?

Jake: Last night they shot someone in the street.  I can not concentrate, I am tired.  My mom is taking me to the clinic later because the teacher says my meds must be wrong. Maybe you can talk to her. 

Jake is one story of too many.  in his case, one of the strengths in his family is that his mom is taking him to the clinic for a follow-up. His mom confirmed that there was shooting the previous night in their block.  Again.  No one was sleeping well. 

Jake struggles at school – he knows that he is on a different learning path, and needs to work harder to read and understand than some of the peers in his class.  He should have had an assessment and referral to a school of skills, but the places there are limited and so Jake presses on in his current environment,  reactive, tired and struggling without the extra learning support that would benefit  him. 

Headlines recently have highlighted the number of learners who attend school hungry. Jake is like so many others.  And the difficulties in getting Jake assessed is also not an isolated incident. In the Western Cape, it’s known that only 2 learners per school per year will get an assessment from the Department of Education psychologist allocated to the school. Not because of unwillingness by the psychologists, but due to sheer number of assessments needed and the challenge of providing a service to the wide areas and number of schools they cover.  Two learners per school when you have between 24 – 28 schools per psychologist means only 48 – 56 learners per year can be assessed for the district. And the need is so much more.

How can this possibly serve the needs of learners, educators and the psychologists themselves, when these assessments include any crisis and short term therapy interventions that also need to be managed? I

Jake fell asleep in a group – but was frequently in trouble for his reactivity and distractibility in the classroom.  Was it impulse control, linked to ADHD or was it because he was a traumatized child which presented with ADHD like symptoms in a system not able to meet his needs?  

The reality is that the classes are too big for educators to be able address the learning gaps for many of the learners.  The admin and demands of a curriculum in a class with 40 to 50 learners who need extra attention add to the challenges of classroom management.  Add to this pressure, the truth that each learner arrives with their own internal pressures from home and life – whether these be the violence in their communities, or substance abuse or “just’ the economic pressures that families are facing. It’s too much for our educators and shows the brokenness in the system. And the result is that these learners who struggle drop out or end up being pushed out of school.

 Arise has too many stories that can be told where it is ‘suggested’ that a different school environment might be a better option for the learner, where families are referred to an external source for intervention on threat of suspension or expulsion, but the classroom management strategies and context of the child is not explored or acknowledged at school.

Learners like Jake are internalizing that they aren’t clever enough, or good enough, or that they only need to survive today without dreaming about tomorrow. This is a real challenge if we want to see the trajectory within our learners change, within our communities change. A challenge for the learners, but also the educators, who must be the mother or father, counselor and nurse too often for learners. This, in addition to ensuring the needs of the curriculum are met and evidence documented that learners’ needs are being identified in order to be placed on a list with no guarantee that the learner will be assisted in a time sensitive manner.

Ultimately, we need to ask the question of what message is being absorbed in schools when gender-based violence occurs on school grounds, between educators and learners as well as between learners themselves? Which world are children being prepared for in the current schooling system?  A world in which survival matters more than thriving or a world in which they have the space and are taught skills to critically think and apply what they are learning. 

We are grateful for the educators and principals who know each of their learners by names, who advocate for children like Jake.  The people in the classrooms who instill a sense of worth as well as values in the children in their care.  We see them.  We can see them and still acknowledge that for too many children, the system is not meeting them and their needs. In fact, it’s failing them. 

The gaps between different contexts are well documented – the impact on too many children whose faces we know and can name changes this from a system’s theory debate to something which becomes personal.  

So just what can you do?  We don’t want to point out the issues without also pointing to some ways to improve the path. One way is to advodcate for and partner with schools who are less resourced, not as a charity but in relationship.  Advocate where you can, in your spheres of influence, including to your faith leaders and ward councilors representing the management of the spaces we live in. And then, consider supporting organizations like Arise, and many others, who work towards developing a sense of belonging, worth and future dreams.  This allows you to both support children and their families, while still advocating for a system change.  Because school shouldn’t be an added trauma in a world which has too many challenges already. 

Finding Connection in Hard Spaces: The boys who refused to listen

Defiance. It’s hard. When a child can look you in the face and stare you down or walk away and slam a door and not listen at all- it pushes all the triggers in any adult. What’s worse is when that defiance is leading them down a road of self-destruction; we end up feeling powerless and hopeless. 

For all the years that I have been working with children and particularly teenagers, the number one problem caregivers highlight is that “the child just won’t listen.” The child is then dropped off at the office in front of the social worker- hoping that counselling will do the trick. But I’ll tell you a secret- it doesn’t. What changes behaviour and long-term behaviour is relationship- healthy relationship. When a child has a permanent caregiver to help regulate their emotions, who is open to talking with them and a caregiver that implements firm healthy boundaries.  That is when children learn and start making different decisions when it comes to behaviour- it is not easy at all but it is so worth it. 

So when I was running one of our groups focused on behavioural management for teenage boys at one of the local high schools in Heideveld. I had a group of ten boys where I was the only facilitator. The first session, those boys tested me in all the ways- using profane language, throwing balls across the room, laughing every time I spoke. In the first 10 minutes, I thought to myself how am I going to get through one session let alone five more? 

Then I just went silent, watching them interact with one another, watching the dynamic between the leaders and the followers, listening to their lingo and getting a small taste of what it might be like with 50 more learners like this in a class. I felt like I was Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds at one point. One of the boys noticed my staring and shushed the other boys down. I smiled and asked them to tell me what it is like to be a boy growing up on the Cape Flats. 

With excited glee that I handed over the mic to them, they took advantage, shouting out various things while laughing- we sexy mam, we dangerous, we are good lovers, we gangsters, there is no hope here, people don’t see us, you won’t understand, it’s hard. 

One of the boys caught my attention, he was the joker of the group but there was something more to his jokes, something behind those eyes. I could never put my finger on it but something about him made me pay a little bit more attention compared to the other boys. 

Over the next few sessions together we connected, I gave them some information and tools and they would tell me if it would work or not. We found our groove and the ‘angry’ ‘naughty’ boys became the boys I knew had the biggest potential if others around them could just see behind their behaviours. 

Then one day, as I entered the school for our third session together, I noticed that the school was rather empty. As I got out of my car, one of the teachers said there were a lot of gang shootings in the area and so they closed the school early to make sure the learners could get home safe. My heart sank because I knew I promised the boys’ chocolates for participating so well the session before, however I wouldn’t see them as holidays were soon approaching. 

I then made a bold move. I decided to go visit each and every boy to drop off their chocolates and make sure they came back to the group after the holidays. I was warned by some of my team not to go because of the gang violence but my heart just kept telling me to go. I took an intern with me and off we went in my car, first to Manenberg. I’ll never forget parking my car and some gangsters rolling dice next to my car whistling and trying to scare me away. I knocked on the door and one of the boys in the group opened the door with an utter shock on his face. He immediately gave me the tightest hugs I ever received from a 16 year old boy. I told him why I was there and proceeded to give him his chocolate. He called his mother and sister to meet me and they smiled with so much pride as I proceeded to tell them how happy I was in that he was in the programme. 

I proceeded to go down the list going from house to house, some of the homes the boys were living in were not homes. They were just structures, one of the homes all the adults were already drunk at it wasn’t even 1pm in the day. These boys came from hard spaces where most of the adults in their lives were not making healthy choices around them either. They were witnessing abuse of all kinds, they were in homes that didn’t know where their next paycheck was coming from- it was unstable and yet, they still were showing up to school, they were still trying to achieve their dreams- and for that despite their deviance, I saw and cheered them on. 

From there, after the holidays, every boy came back to the group and none of them gave me any issues. They opened up deeply with their thoughts, feelings and why they acted in a certain way. And that joker, the boy always with a smile on his face. Why, he came to the group even though his grandmother didn’t want him there. His reasoning; “I want to be different. I don’t want to end up like my dad in jail. I want to make different choices.” I encouraged each and every boy that though their choices were between hard and harder choices- they still could make the right choice for them if it was leading them to their dreams. It’s been 8 years since running that group and I still remember each & every boy. Though their family dynamics might have not changed, I know they all finished school. 

So back to the word defiance. What I have learnt throughout the years is that for many of our children, behavior is a way our children communicate to us of their unmet needs. 

Through connecting with children and/or teenagers through their favourite activities and by validating their experiences and feelings this is where we find the opportunity to help guide them in coaching them to make the right decision for themselves by inserting firm boundaries. Boundaries that have consequences when they are crossed. 

Punitive measures do not work. Particularly for our children and teens who are exposed to multiple traumas throughout their lives. It leads to feelings of more rejection and abandonment in their lives, and for these kids, we need to work even harder to connect more before we correct. 

At Arise, we believe that discipline is teaching. It is teachable moments in all of our children’s lives and so by maintaining a good healthy relationship of mutual respect that is where our children will also start self-discipline- where they will make healthy choices for themselves in their future. 

Written by Danielle Moosajie (Director and senior social worker)

We are Not Hopeless

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

Why Family Strengthening Should be on the GBVF Agenda

As we approach “16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children” starting on 25th November, we propose that addressing gender-based violence and femicide (also known as “GBVF”) has to be made a priority in South Africa. Statistics help us understand the seriousness of this challenge, with GBVF being recognized as a pandemic. South Africa grapples with a complex violent past, and serious socio-economic challenges that continue to impact the life experiences of its people. 

We also know that a person who decides to use violence against another, a person who takes someone else’s life, a person who preys on the most vulnerable does not come out of a vacuum, but rather, is part of the fabric of society that we have produced. We know this because as Arise, we sometimes interact with these perpetrators. For example, a few years ago, we worked with a well known community member, a father who was seemingly well respected man in our network, but was revealed that he had been abusive toward his wife and children. By the time we got involved his youngest child had to be removedfrom the family for his own safety. When talking to this boy and his family, he told the story of how he never had parents in his life and had been raised by the gangs in the community.

There is no excuse for this father’s behaviour. Yet one can understand that if someone is not taught what healthy connection is (which includes how to handle your anger), and when violence is a part of your everyday life or you don’t learn how to seek help when you need it… then violence is often the result. Within the relational structures of his world: a patriarchal society, a deep sense of personal shame, and being turned away from social support, what would we expect to develop? To say nothing for welfare systems that are broken and parts of systems that are corrupted…. His story is only one in a relentless ripple effect where everything is interconnected.  

This is precisely why Arise believes that we need to focus on family strengthening as a proactive, preventative measure and secondary intervention to address family violence within the home and in the community. 

The Need for Family Strengthening

Many parents whose children become involved with the child protection system have their own histories of trauma. This may include physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, psychological harm and exposure to violence and/or neglect. Research and clinical literature on trauma globally has clearly demonstrated how the severe impact of trauma for a child’s development and the persistence of these symptoms throughout the lifetime. This is what we are facing in our country.

We know that many of our families in South Africa have multiple, complex challenges. Our families are dealing with poverty, violence, substance abuse, unemployment and so much more. These are things that most South Africans understand, but do we comprehend the depth of how these factors seep into the very fibre of the next generation that is being brought up? 

Many people who grow up in these environments face depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. When mental illness, family violence and substance abuse (alcohol or other drugs) impact individuals, their capacity to parent is heavily impacted, especially when these factors merge. When all three factors are present, the risk to children’s safety and their ongoing development can often be severe, and there is increased risk of the child being harmed.  

Parents affected by these challenges, historically or currently, are likely to have difficulty understanding and/or responding appropriately to their children’s needs. Parents may struggle to be emotionally present and connected to their children.  They may be agitated or physically remove themselves, leaving children to navigate a challenging world both inside and outside of the home.  Ineffective, harsh and punitive discipline practices that damage the sense of belonging and connection between parent and child often lead to further disruptions in the parent-child relationship. Children who are exposed to parental substance abuse themselves show higher rates of anxiety and depression, attention issues and substance abuse.  These children are also more likely to suffer from neglect and abuse – leading to an ongoing, generational cycle. As adults, these children end up repeating this cycle with their own children – leading to an ongoing, generational cycle of violence and trauma.

Creating Healthy Attachment Bonds

Research globally continues to reaffirm the importance of felt safety from infancy for human beings. Felt safety underpins the development of the bond between an infant/child and parent/ caregiver. One of the keys of optimal development is that of the attachment bond – it is here that humans learn how to respond in an empathic, regulated and attuned way.  When this is disrupted due to the challenges within the parental or caregiver system, the way in which a child’s brain develops is impacted-  not just with regards to their social relationships, but also in terms of their ability to plan, learn and problem solve in a healthy proactive way. 

Arise  believes that we need to keep families together as best as we can because we know severing familial bonds and connections creates more trauma and in fact, our welfare system cannot cope with more children entering our system. 

We also know through the work we do in adoption support that this is not the solution either. 

We believe in a whole-family approach. We cannot work only with a child or only with the parent but with the entire system. 

A whole-family approach is a useful way of working with families experiencing the most significant and complex challenges in their lives. This approach consists of assessing and addressing the needs of the children, adults and the family and ensuring that support provided to them is coordinated and focused on concerns affecting the whole family. 

Arise believes that we need to be connecting families to services already available within their community. Especially as our child welfare system is already unable to cope with the increased number of children needing care. With over 100 000 NGOs in this country we need to be working collaboratively in order to best support the families in need. We need to work together and build the strengthes of the families we serve.

Focusing on the strengths that all families possess – even those with complex challenges, starts to change the narrative and sense of choice for members of those families. It is easy to only focus on the problems and allow the problems to define the families- a challenge to problem solving and deepening belonging and relationship. Focusing on the challenge only without acknowledging the family strengths removes a sense of ownership within the whole family unit, as well as allows the challenge to dictate the limits of problem solving.  Therefore, we advocate for a strength-based approach which empowers the family to know who they are and what they are already doing well as well as giving them hope and purpose in the problem-solving process. 

As we seek to fight and address GBVF, we need to seek solutions that address the whole family:  What protective factors exist and can be developed within families? How can we reduce the impact of trauma and strengthen the bond between caregiver and child?  How do we give families the tools and language they need to foster healthy attachment bonds?  In doing so we can create a generation of children who have secure self-worth, an ability to trust and develop healthy relationships with others as well as develop resilience. 

If you believe in the work of family preservation and strengthening, why don’t you partner with Arise so that we can see all families thrive throughout our country? When you strengthen families, you strengthen communities. 

Let’s Talk About Orphan Sunday

Globally, November is recognized as World Adoption Month and Orphan Sunday is a day, observed on 13th November 2022, in many church calendars this year.  It is usually a day focused on children needing care in the form of families and people are often encouraged to consider adoption.  The biblical reasoning for this is often that God adopted us into the family of God and so as people created in the image of God we should be doing the same for others.  This begs the question though – is spiritual adoption the same as adoption of children into a physical family? 

What would happen if we acknowledged that perhaps the right questions have been missed in a quest to confirm or endorse this spiritual way of thinking? What if we started the conversation before adoption? What if we centered the conversation, within the church specifically, to reconsider what role we have in caring for vulnerable children and families?

You see over 80% of children who are deemed orphans are not actually orphans. Orphan in the legal definition means that both or one parent is dead. But we know many children, if we put in the effort to find biological parents and extended families, these so called orphans are not in fact orphans- they have roots, and that they have belonging. 

In South Africa, many adoptions are brought on by poverty which is incredibly sad given the history of our country because we know that should we give the support to biological parents and/or extended family members they would choose to parent that child. 

Cam Lee Small from @therapyredeemed poses the following reflecting question: 

If family preservation and reunification was important to the local church, I suspect the way we ‘celebrate’ adoption would look very very different. 

When we look at many adult adoptees responses to their adoption story and particularly those adult adoptees who have been brought up in church; many adult adoptees are offended by the celebration of orphan Sunday. This is because as churches we focus on the adoptive families and not the families that they have lost and the families that our children grieve for. As adoptive parents we should NEVER EVER celebrate the day our children have legally lost their connections because when we adopt we don’t just adopt a child but their family too which is a part of who they are. 

Here is a quote from an adult adoptee and an adoptive parent, from blogger

“As an adoptee, thinking about a day where I lost everything and didn’t have contact with my family growing up, I want to just throw up. Why would a people group (usually white) celebrate a time when kids were orphans. Wasn’t that celebrated within the orphanage?”

As Arise we encourage all to really rethink your stance on “Orphan Sundays”. Let’s not exploit adoptees telling their adoptive testimonies to fit into a narrative we know is broken, let’s not highlight adoptive parent either. What we need to be highlighting the failure of our welfare system that keeps children in need of care. We need to be highlighting the failure of support for women experiences crisis pregnancies and the failure of including the whole family. We need to be highlighting that adoption does not fix the problem because adoption is traumatic for EVERY child. 

We do acknowledge there is a need for permanency for our most vulnerable children who are in need of care but families need to be equipped properly with the right tools and skills to parent children in alternative care (adoption, foster care, safety care) because we know love is not enough. 

The reality in South Africa is that the majority of children in alternative care, are not eligible for adoption, nor do they fulfil the parameters of the interests of parents wishing to adopt.  The majority of people in South Africa wishing to adopt are hopeful of being matched with a child under the age of 6 months and numerous social media discussion platforms will see people asking the question of “Is it possible to be matched or receive a new born” which reinforces the following statement by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2003: “Regrettably, in many cases, the emphasis has changed from the desire to provide a needy child with a home, to that of providing a needy parent with a child. As a result, the whole industry has grown, generating millions of dollars of revenues each year.” 

None of these children chose to be in need of care or asked to be adopted and so when we look at the stats above, as well as the UN comment on adoption, we need to ask ourselves, what is the narrative that we are telling from the pulpit and discussing in the pews – literally or figuratively. What is the message being given to people who were adopted, or are children ‘waiting to be chosen’? What is the message being given to families, to mothers and fathers in the throes of circumstantial crisis due to economic or relational hardship, that are considering placing their child for adoption? We propose that it is necessary to consider not just the intent of an Orphan Sunday morning focus, but also the impact on children in alternative care, and members of their biological families, known or unknown when preparations are made for a day that is said to be all about children, but too often ends up being about the adults who have choices, while the children don’t.  

We would propose the need to deeply reflect on what it would look like if we were to consider preserving a family unit rather than removing a child to an alternative family.  And that we need to focus more perhaps on the possibility of caring for children by working out how to care for their biological families too.  We acknowledge that this will require us to ask ourselves what we believe about who is best equipped to parent a child.  It requires reflecting on whether we believe that our socialisation and worldview is the exclusive and correct one for all children to thrive, or whether we can see how others, different from ourselves, might also be best placed to care for their kin. 

Imagine we had community forums focused on empowering caregivers –  grandmothers, aunties, mothers and fathers – to strengthen their family units.  Imagine if every caregiver felt that they weren’t alone and that there was support to parent the children in their care, how much disruption and reduction in trauma, grief and loss would exist for these families. What an incredible opportunity for the church as a whole to partner with children’s families in strengthening them to remain intact rather than seeing adoption as a solution to what in South Africa is too often only an economic crisis.

We have seen the fruit of these forums, and seen the impact of support offered to caregivers in crisis to navigate the hurdles that feel too overwhelming to choose to parent.  What would this mean for the church if we took up this challenge?  What would this mean for children and families in our country?

Imagine the possibilities.

** Arise recognises the role of adoption in alternative care – we know we don’t live in an ideal world and so we do advocate for permanency for children when they cannot be with their families for whatever reason.  However, we don’t believe that adoption should be seen as the solution when we know that there are other strategies that also need to be explored in strengthening families

* Cam Lee Small is an adult christian adoptee who practices as a therapist & was adopted transracially and internationally.