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. 

What About Me?

“What about me? Do I even matter, why does nobody care for me, don’t they know all I want is love?”, these are the heartbreaking words from a teen girl I worked with whose foster parents could no longer accept her behaviourial challenges within their home and her biological mother was in prison for murder. These words have stayed and haunted me for over 10 years. The real issue is that our system is not working for our children at all. 

You see this child’s behavior was not out of the ordinary particularly for a child who has been removed from biological roots, who witnessed that particular murder and who was a developing teenager with hormones raging through her body. The reality is that the social worker did not prepare the foster family for the work that was needed and the child received no intervention after she was removed. And so for years, she sat with rage and behaved like the compliant child never knowing when she would be uprooted. The insecurity, the pain, the anger, the hurt, the loneliness, the struggle to fit in is a lot for a child’s heart to handle. 

As a team we have cried, we have screamed, we have raged together as over the years we have seen child after child falling in the gaps of our systems. Systems that are overworked, overstretched and overloaded with children that they cannot look after with great care. Our social development department is inundated with children needing to be removed and with over 400 000 children in foster care itself, we have not dealt with the overwhelming children coming out of homes with addiction and abuse which we know poses threat and challenges to their development- physiologically as well as psychologically. Our foster families are not being trained, and supported enough, our children’s homes are full and also not getting the support and care needed to handle many difficult challengesFurthermore, there are high turnover of staff in statutory work as each social worker can have up to 250 cases each. I can attest to this as I was one of these social workers over 10 years ago. This leads to burnout, trauma and a mental load that no one could imagine. 

Our education department is not coping with the amount of learners needing extra assistance within the classroom as well as the curriculum is not inclusive for children with learning challenges which we know would be more prevalent in communities with socioeconomic challenges as well. With classes reaching up to 70 learners per teacher, with one education psychologist for 22 schools in a district and 5 social workers to 30 schools- how do we ensure that children are being assessed correctly?

Over the years part of Arise’s work was always advocating that no child that we know of will fall through the cracks. We are on the phone, we are sitting on panels, we are empowering caregivers in order for children to stay in school, to receive the interventions that they are in desperate in need of in order to thrive. We cannot expect a child who is sitting in a classroom with learning challenges to have a good self-esteem when they are told to colour in pages because they do not understand math. We can tell story after story after of children we have worked with where we can see our systems are failing our children. 

We know of a young boy of 6 who was sodomized in the community, when the school heard about this they reported it to all the channels needed- statutory services as well as the education department. Nothing was done for over a year. Now the school is sitting with a problem because this very boy has now become a perpetrator as he has been inappropriately touching the girls in class. The school has sorted out intervention but there is a waiting list of 6 months and the family has neglected the child as they cannot come to terms with what has happened. Furthermore, the child has been named a ‘rapist’ in the community and he is only 7 years old. 

We have recently worked with a 15 year old girl who is supposed to be in grade 9 but she is in grade 6 and is still failing. She has never had any assessment done and the school is waiting for her to drop out. Her family lives in extreme poverty as they are backyard dwellers and the parents themselves have learning challenges and struggles with the use of alcohol. There are three other children all with learning challenges as well and so as a team we are advocated for these children to be assessed immediately, but they have yet to be seen. 

We have another girl who is 10 years old who has yet to be documented and has not been in a classroom at all. No school can take her in as she is too old to start grade 1 and has no documentation. The biological parents are known drugs addicts and she is taken care of by the community at large. We know her through a concerned community member who brought her to the office and she now is running as a drug peddler in the community. 

This is our reality, this is the reality of many of the children and families within our communities. If we are serious about child protection, if we are serious about gender based violence, if we are serious about the next generation then we need to hold the powers at be accountable. We need to strengthen civil society. This requires long term financial partners, partners who can build capacity, partners who can work together for the greater good. 

This is why we believe in partnerships. We partner with schools, local organisations and government in order to ensure families are strengthened. Children are not in isolation- they are part of a system a family system that they go back to. That is why we believe that we need to strengthen these families. When families are strengthened- they have strong relationships with each other, they have good problem solving skills, they can nurture each other’s strengths, build resilience and a sense of belonging within the home- then we can have stronger communities. Communities that will ensure that no child is left behind, that no child is being neglected and abused and a community that ensures the powers at be will do the job required. 

If you believe in the work that we do and the importance of this work, then we encourage you to have a look at the work we do and partner with us.

Women of South Africa … Are You Ready to be Fierce?

It is no surprise to women living in South Africa that we face a wide range of challenges. There are high crime rates, domestic violence, child abuse, HIV/AIDS, poverty, poor local government delivery and unemployment. Many women also have the role of motherhood, which is a central role in our country. Whether it be a grandmother as a primary caregiver of their grandkids, an aunt or even a sibling. And while great strides have been made over the years, gender discrimination still takes place in the workplace, in policy development and implementation, in the roles assigned in familial structures and religious institutions, women are still poorly represented; with some notable exceptions.


Knowing all the statistics….

Knowing that so many women in our country are victims of gender-based violence and femicide…

Knowing that we call for march-after-march, shouting for policy change, funding towards projects…

What else can we do?

As a NGO made up of women we declare that we need to be fierce wherever we are. As a team of women we have faced many challenges, as well as discrimination within the NGO sphere and through advocating for policy change. As a team, we have learnt to become Fierce! “Fierce comes from the Latin ferus ‘wild animal.’ It means strong, proud, dangerous and ready to roar.” 

Don’t you just love that? 

 “Ready to roar!”

As South African women we are strong- every single day we wake up and navigate a dangerous country:

  •  making sure we are walking in safe areas, 
  • we’ve had to take criticism from men in the workplace, 
  • bite our tongue when we walk past men on the street who catcall,
  •  fear of speaking up in case of being rejected or pushed aside, 
  • we navigate relationships hoping they are healthy ones 
  • and so much more. 

So how exactly do we become fierce?

It begins with knowing our worth and our value.

Being fierce means knowing our healthy boundaries, taking care of ourselves so that we can then extend care to others- remember, when we are on an airplane always put the oxygen mask on yourselves first before attending to others. It is the same for us. As women, we are taught that it is okay to sacrifice ourselves for the happiness of others, and this has deep consequences for the type of relationships we find ourselves in, and how we allow people to treat us. 

Being fierce means standing up in the face of adversity and this might be marching up to parliament and fighting for women’s rights. But it also means standing up to a bully, it means saying no.   It’s challenging those societal norms that have been put on us, and it means taking care of our mental health to cope through it all. Being a fierce woman does not only mean standing up, being brave and roaring but it means that we need to love ourselves first. Without self-love and self-respect, people will more likely take advantage.

Being fierce means empowering ourselves as women. Women’s empowerment is promoting women’s sense of self-worth, their ability to determine their own choices, and their right to influence social change for themselves and others. Empowering women is essential to the health and social development of families, communities and countries.

When women are living safe, fulfilled and productive lives, they can reach their full potential. contributing their skills to the workforce and can raise happier and healthier children. They are also able to help fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.

It is up to all of us to ensure that women empowerment becomes a lived reality. 

So if you are a man in the workplace…

How do we ensure that we uplift women’s voices in the workplace? How do you ensure there is good women leadership representation on every level of management? 

As women

How do we support each other? How do we shine light on each other’s strengths? How do we ensure that we are networking and sharing resources, and standing up for each other? 

We cannot accept the status quo that makes women fearful every day, where women are raped, tortured, killed, beaten, behind in education and left out of the economic and social mainstream. By working together we can ensure a societal shift so that women can take their rightful place and not only contribute to the country’s socio-economic growth and development, but also to the individual thriving and flourishing in one another’s lives as we choose to pursue our individual passions. We want to see women thrive.  Because when women thrive, families thrive and when families thrive- we have stronger communities. 

Women, let’s be Fierce….Together!

Written by Danielle Moosajie

How Supporting Families Supports the Economy

Life right now is hard. The petrol price keeps increasing. The cost of cooking oil is increasing. Interest rates keep going up, not to mention the electricity crisis that we too pay exorbitant fees for in this country. 

It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed or anxious about the state of our country and our economy. For the average working person, life is getting more challenging. And those  who are able, and have the opportunity, are leaving for better prospects and living conditions where they can find them, hoping for an improvement in their quality of life. 

But what about those who are not working? What about those who don’t have the opportunity to leave? We are hearing more and more stories of those who are leaving their jobs because the cost of travelling to their workplace is greater than their current salary. 

This deepening economic crisis is profoundly impacting children, youth and families. Its effects are rippling through the multiple contexts in which children and youth find themselves. We see how stressors such as job loss, loss of homes, or loss in family savings place strain on parental relationships and on the family as a whole.

For families living in resource-poor communities, this crisis is more severe, with basic needs such as food security, healthcare and shelter going unmet. We saw this clearly during the first year of the pandemic. Research has shown that higher poverty rates are correlated witho increased rates of family conflict, child neglect and abuse, and intimate partner violence. Recently in South Africa, we have seen a reported   rise in  murder rates, gender-based violence and senseless tavern shootings. 

On a broader level, the worsening economy can impact funds for schools, civil society organisations and health care community services, which are seeing their budgets tighten when their services are needed the most by our nation’s children, youth and families.

Children and youth are particularly vulnerable as they undergo critical developmental transitions. For example, graduating from high school, adolescents at this stage may be forced to postpone their plans for higher education and instead seek increasingly scarce jobs in order to contribute to the household economy. All of these changes can have profound and lasting effects on the mental health of our country’s children and youth, often causing problems in terms of anxiety, lowered self-esteem and other emotional or behavioural difficulties.

I am sure reading this, you might be asking yourself, “okay, but how am I part of the solution? Surely it is government and corporations who are most responsible for making the change needed, not me.” Yes, we need to hold the government and the private sector to account, but there are also impactful things that we can do,as individuals, to support families, to uplift children and to make a difference in the day-to-day lives of others. 

Think about your sphere of influence, where can you assist the most? Is it helping cover the costs of transport for your domestic worker, knowing that most South Africans spend more than 25% of their salary on transport especially those living on the outskirts of the city. Do you have time to volunteer? Civil society organisations, need donations,yes, but also have other needs, should that be light admin, or assisting with making food or sandwiches. Perhaps you have specific skills like graphic design or marketing that could make a difference in that organisation’s impact. Do you work for a corporation that has a CSI committee? Are they focused on deep impact and building of society? Get involved in understanding who and why you support those organisations. Can you or your workplace offer internships or apprenticeship programmes to help youth gain work experience?

As South Africans we have seen our country come together in times of need, organizing soup kitchens in our communities, cleaning up, and helping rebuild businesses in Kwazulu-Natal. The very foundation of our country is cemented in unity, community and the spirit of Ubuntu. And now we need this more than ever.

Research has shown that when given the appropriate tools for positive parenting, prevention of child abuse,neglect, and the fostering of resilience- children, youth and families can more effectively cope with the stress that this economic downturn has produced. But families need more. As an organization whose sole purpose is to see families thrive, we strongly advocate for the universal income grant. We advocate for it because we know that families that receive the grant are better able to access food,regular health care, and to send their children to school. They’re also less likely to suffer from debilitating stress, which can lead to violence and poor mental health.

The universal income grant also helps to protect the  dignity of all families, particularly, those that need it the most. Families get to decide for themselves how they will use the money, and what is important for them in order to survive. It allows families and children to break-free from the poverty trap as they can take more strategic risks, knowing that their basic needs are met. We have seen the scientific data reflected in the work that we do with families who are in need of support, not only psychologically but also financially. When we strengthen and support families with both financial aid and parental tools we help foster resilience amongst families as well as support the economy. It helps to fill jobs today and it helps to prepare children and youth for their future. 

To know more, contact

Written by Danielle Moosajie

Dear John (Steenhuisen)

Dear Mr. John Steenhuisen,

3 weeks ago we saw you travel overseas to see the impact of the war in the Ukraine and you received private funding which enabled you to do so.  War anywhere is horrific. But do you know that we have our own wars here in South Africa. Do you know about the many children who are abused? Who witness continuous violence? Children, particularly on the Cape Flats who run towards gun fire rather than away? Do you know about this? Or have the cries of our people fallen on deaf ears?

I am felt compelled to write to you as we are in Child Protection Week reflecting on the very real reality of children at-risk, children who experience complex trauma daily, children who are stuck in a system that does not work for them. You might ask why I chose to engage with you, well, honestly, wherever I look, I see signage about living in the “city that works for you” and live in a city that is led by your political party. 

I am deeply saddened by the fact that just 3 weeks ago, a school called hysterically as they lost an 18 year old learner- a son, a brother, a friend, a matriculant.  It was a deeply painful session, as kids from Grade 10 – 12 were struggling with the loss of their friend. A friend who was simply walking to his girlfriend, and never reached her.  Things 18 year olds do over weekends. Fall in love and want to spend time with those that make their hearts flutter.

Last week as I left for work I was told to avoid driving on a different street because there had been acts of violence.  Violence that led to 5 people being shot during peak hour time as people were heading to work.  It was somewhat surreal to see an automatic weapon being passed around like a nerf gun in footage that went viral and yet listening to the sounds of the shots on the streets and fields where children play, and families travel to work, or in search of work.

This evening, as my grade 1 falls asleep quietly next to me, while I finish off my work from the day, a notification pops up telling me that grade 1s at a school in Cape Town (where the city works for you), educators had instructed the learners to put their heads on the desks while parents and caregivers waited to collect them – why, you may ask? because shots were fired as the school gates were opened. I am deeply grateful that no one was shot in this process.

So while your Ukraine visit occurred and the photos taken were contested and went viral.  A trip that while not funded by tax-payers’ money, could have been used to understand and support the end to our war right in your city. Money which could have been used to support local organisations helping young adults exit gangs and prevent young kids entering gangs, community soup kitchens, our local schools and for ways the City, government, organisations and communities can work well together in understanding the complexities of this war.

A war that while not overtly targets children, impacts every aspect of their lives.

A war that stops them from going to school. A war that stops support from being able to reach school. A war that means that there aren’t enough schools or seats and that extra murals aren’t offered equally in a nation where we believe that the rights of children includes access to good enough education – how do educators meet the needs of all the children in a classroom where there aren’t enough seats?

A war that as a part of a bigger structural system complicates the fact that for every 3 children needing an educational psych assessment and support, there is only 1 opportunity available for this to happen.

A war that means that school completion is already under threat and threatened, threatens it more. A war that has foot soldiers, literally as young as 11 years old taking up arms.

A war that is within our own borders and our own city.  One in which the army, police and law enforcement are called in when the death rate is too high or we are close to elections – or so it seems really.

When we do we ask the questions of what allows this war to prevail and persist?

When do we prioritize the wellbeing of children in a city where too often as gang violence or rape or murder become part of their story?

It’s time we sat around a table not looking at plasters or band aids, but with eyes looking at the different layers fueling this war: the silos in which systems work, the lack of integrated public-private strategy, the need for local South African contextual interventions and the opportunities to create a different experience. 

We need to deal with this war.  Children in Manenberg, Gugulethu and Lavender Hill and so many more areas need to know, that their lives are not more, or less important than those in Ukraine.

As someone who wished to see the impact of war, we invite you to come and listen to what we have seen, experienced and learnt from the families we have worked with and to listen to the stories we can share of resilience as well as loss. What will it take for the children living in this war, of poverty and violence to be seen as worthy of long term and sustainable change?

How do we protect them? Let’s talk.

Their lives matter – we need the systems and power spaces to let them know this.

Written by Alexa Russell Matthews

Children, Church & the Law

Are places of faith – our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples – safe for our children and families in South Africa? Headlines where priests, pastors or leaders who have exploited young men and women, boys and girls under their care aren’t unfamiliar – yet the question we need to ask is what has permitted this to continue too often in the name of healing, wholeness and faith?