ERD Programme Manager Naidi McDonnell visits Justice Desk Africa
After many years of working with the Justice Desk Africa, I finally had the opportunity to visit South Africa in November and see the project in action!
The week began with an introduction to the Mbokodo girls and the iNtsika boys. The Mbokodo Project offers empowerment workshops, mental health care support, and self-defense programmes to girl survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) and rape. The iNtsika Project aims to end GBV by equipping a generation of positive male role models, who challenge toxic masculinity and GBV, as well as promote equal rights and justice for all. The theme for the day was ‘Power’. The kids were tasked at looking at the positives and negatives that come with Power and the importance of communication when in a leadership role. The day was full of activity from sports, meditation, dance, singing and self-defence classes. Throughout the day, the social workers and psychologists had individual sessions with the kids to ensure they were receiving the psycho-social support they need.
Later in the week, I met with more of the kids and parents from these two projects. When I asked Sethu, a boy who recently graduated from iNtsika, what the best thing about the JDA is, he said ‘there is love there. We learn to love ourselves and our brothers and sisters’. The Mbokodo girls had a similar response: ‘it feels like home, I can be free and escape my problems from the township’. Patricia, whose twin boys attend iNtsika, has also attended the parenting classes that compliment these projects. She was beaten as a child and thought that was the only way to bring up her boys. She was taught how to use positive re enforcement instead of beating her sons. She can now sit and talk to her boys about safe sex, drug use, etc. I also had the chance to attend a Youth Ambassador (YA) training session in Modderdam Secondary school. The kids were taught about the difference between charity and advocacy and how they can become everyday activists within their communities. The YA programme runs across 10 countries in Africa and follows a Justice Curriculum to equip children with the tools to stand up for their human rights. This project now runs in the Dominican School for the Deaf, together with a Social Justice Club. One of the saddest moments on the trip was finding out that most of the deaf children in the club have families that do not know sign language. As one of the girls said: ‘Before I joined this school, I felt I was alone in this world’. They told me how excluded they felt from the hearing community; basic tasks such as talking to police or accessing medical help is impossible and they worry about being able to join the workforce. We brainstormed ideas of how we could run an accessibility campaign across all the YA schools next year to highlight how the deaf community is prevented from realising many of their human rights.
The JDA team also brought me to visit the Early Childhood Development centres. The teachers are taught about positive disciplining and not using corporal
punishment. The kids are taught about their human rights and child protection issues. In past sessions, kids have come forward and told their teacher that something had happened to them after learning what abuse was from the sessions. Understanding abuse at a young age helps stop abuse happening at the earliest opportunity and provides the kids with a safe space to share their worries. (Pictured: Justice Desk Africa’s Theo Lutuli at the Early Childhood Development centres)
My time in South Africa was eye opening. I gained an understanding of the
issues faced by those living in townships and the importance of equipping children to become everyday activists. It is with the support of projects like the Justice Desk Africa that change will happen and human rights will be realised. Thanks to everyone at the Justice Desk Africa for hosting me!