What Our Partners Say: Uthando Dolls

Written by Julie Stone (Paediatric Psychiatrist and long-time friend of dlalanathi)
Playing Blog 3Peter and I recently caught up with Rachel, Robyn and some of the dlalanathi team on a visit to South Africa. We were welcomed with warm affection. It was Peter’s first visit, and a joy for me to be with the dlalanathi team again.
The team had organised a busy three-day program to introduce Peter to their work, and to share with me some of the developments since my last visit. Robyn, Peter and I set off with Beko (Social Worker and Child Protection Officer) to meet with a group of women from the Mpumuza community who had participated in a Family Support Process and their Child Protection Training.
Mpumuza is a peri-urban community “just over the hill” from a wealthy white suburb where we were staying. Once over the hill and very soon after the turn-off from the main road the tarmac surface gives way to a potholed and rugged track. Not many cars travel on these tracks, they mostly serve as walking paths for many of the community who walk over the hill to supply domestic labour to the homes on the other side.
There are very few community buildings in Mpumuza. To engage and work with this community, dlalanathi have had to rely on community members to open their homes for meetings and groups to take place. The Steven Lewis Foundation have just awarded dlalanathi a generous grant to work with the Mpumuza community to build a safe play park to serve children and families, the first of its kind in this community.
We were welcomed into MaMabongi’s home, one of the few homes in this community with a gate and secure fence. The neat and solid home is set in a well-watered patch of green lawn with three almond trees with ripening fruit at the property’s edge. The humble living room has electric lights and a large comfortable brown velveteen covered sofa. The weather was foul – cold, windy and wet but we were dry and warm in the comfort and care of Mabongi’s home.
Mabongi, Mathato, Fikile and Mathusi were waiting to welcome us and talk about their experiences and their hopes for the children in their community. Siyabonga*, a five-year old boy, was also with us. Mabongi was that day taking care of Siyabonga, the son of one of her neighbours. Siyabonga mother works and his usual carer had gone to a funeral.
When we arrived Siyabonga was being carried on Mabongi’s back. Although he does not look to be five, it was clear he is a big boy, and too old for such carriage. He sat on Mabongi’s knee for the first part of the conversation. He did not seek to explore but reached out for Mabongi’s cell ‘phone, not to engage with the ‘phone but to run the hard edge of the ‘phone along his gum, which he did repeatedly for some time. His eyes did not fix well. He has a slight astigmatism and a slow trail of dribble flowed from his mouth. When he was seated on the floor he was able to support himself to sit, but his mobility was otherwise limited.
As he sat Siyabonga repeatedly bent his head back and forward in a rhythmic way until his eyes began to close and he was taken to lie on Mabongi’s bed. Siyabonga was silent throughout the visit, and clearly found comfort from being close to Mabongi. He looked briefly at Peter when he was smiled at and had a briefly glanced at me when I sat on the floor with him.
When I asked what were their hopes for Siyabonga and other children like him in the community Fikile said she hoped that one day he would be able to walk and would learn to talk. She also hoped that they would be able to find a wheelchair for him.
Mabongi told us that she has been concerned about Siyabonga for some time. It seemed that her recent Child Protection training encouraged her to be more proactive in her concern. Although his mother said she had been taking him to the hospital for his treatment, Mabongi thought his development did not show evidence of any or much intervention. She asked permission to take him to the hospital to learn from the doctors how they understood his problems and what the community might do to help him. She learned that although Siyabonga’s health card has been scanned regularly at the hospital – so he did indeed go to the hospital with someone – he had not been seen by any of the staff since he was one, in 2013! It seemed that his card was being scanned in order to secure his disability grant but no time was given to see the doctors.
Mabongi still does not understand the mother’s neglect or reluctance for her son to participate in active treatment, however, she has Siyabonga’s mother’s agreement that she can take him to the hospital for his physiotherapy and other interventions. Mabongi is committed to doing what she can do to ensure that Siyabonga gets the help and support he needs to make what developmental gains are possible.
These women talked about their hopes for the children in their community – that children would feel safe, that they would learn right from wrong, and that they would be able to find their voice to speak with others about what troubles them. They also want children to have a voice to say “no” to adults who ask, demand or expect them to participate or engage in inappropriate ways that worry or upset them and to identify the adults in the community who are safe and trustworthy and who will support them.
*Name changed to protect identity.

In the field: Children in Mpumuza find a voice

At the beginning of 2017, Beko Mpungose, our Child Protection Officer completed training with a group of community members from Mpumuza where dlalanathi are currently working. After the training, 5 women came to Beko and expressed their desire to work directly with children, and specifically to hear children’s views on child safety and protection in their own community. We at dlalanathi were thrilled and delighted to hear these women’s enthusiasm to facilitate child participation in the community as this is the very outcome we desire to see for children! This contributes to the increase of safe spaces and relationships for children in communities, and communicates to children that they are indeed important and their voices need to be heard.
Beko set about working directly with these 5 women named; Bongekile (Mabongi), Mathato, Ntombifikile, Doreen, Zamekile to train and mentor them in running a child participation process. The process used was based on the Child-to-Child* 6 step tool. The women were trained in each step of the process and mentored weekly as they implemented it with the children. We catered for 20 children and 36 showed up! The sessions were held at Mabongi’s house, she has a big heart and a large garden! The facilitators were gracious and flexible and accommodated all 36 children. As the participation process unfolded, the children chose to focus on child abductions, an issue which has been highlighted in the press in South Africa over recent years (linked to child trafficking), and has been a real issue faced in Mpumuza this past year. The children researched and discussed this topic and decided that they wanted to create a drama to perform for their parents and other community members in order to increase awareness of the issue and to communicate the support they need to feel safe.
Once the participation process was complete, the children continued to arrive at Mabongi’s house on Saturdays, week after week. It was clear that her house had become a fun, safe place for the children to play and so, Mabongi and the other facilitators decided to continue to build and develop their relationships with the children and a “Play Days” club started at the house. Play Days are a great alterative to safe play in communities where often there are no parks or safe, adult supervised spaces for children to play in.
In addition to the start of this Play Day, the facilitators had a waiting list of 18 children also wanting to be part of a participation process! They started another participation process concurrent to the Play Days and thus had very busy Saturdays from then on! This second group of children participating in the process decided that they wanted to deal with the issue of sexual abuse and also parents not giving children food**. After this process ended, the facilitators noticed some changes in some of the children, especially an increase in confidence in those who were more reserved and shy at the beginning of the process.
The grand finale of the year was an event in the community to which the children from both participation groups invited their caregivers to come and listen to what they had achieved and watch the presentations they had created. This was well attended and enjoyed by the caregivers. Beko had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with a number of caregivers to find out from them what impact they felt the process had on their children. The comments were positive. As Beko notes: “One caregiver said her child enjoys going to school now and her marks have improved.” “The parents see the programme as something that assists their children in not spending too much time on the street.”
We celebrate Bongekile, Mathatho, Ntombifikile, Doreen and Zamekile who gave a lot of their time and care to the children of Mpumuza in 2017 and continue to do so in 2018. They report to becoming much closer as a group of women and provide a significant and joyful community of support for one another. They are true champions of children!
*Child-to-Child is an international child right’s agency specifically focused on ensuring the voice of the child is heard in all matters pertaining to them. www.childtochild.org.uk
**Children are monitored and assessed as to their well-being and any concerns about neglect and/or abuse are followed up and referred to local social workers for assistance.
Excited parents 1
Parents celebrate their children’s voices at the end of the year.

Technical Supervision

IMG 0472Once a month the fieldwork staff get together with the Development Manager, Linda, to engage in technical supervision (TS). The focus of TS alternates between process-related work and a fun creative space to relax and play together as a team.
In process-related supervision the team looks at a particular process they have been implementing in the community to think about revisions needed and/or decide whether there is any upskilling necessary for better implementation of that particular process. We have learnt that every community is unique and what may have worked in one community may require adapting to best serve who we are working with now. For example Me Power (a personal development process that focuses on empowerment), one of dlalanathi’s core processes for over 10 years, was reviewed in a TS session and small, but significant changes were required to ensured that the process continues to be relevant to the context in which it is implemented today.
This has also been an incredibly useful space where new processes get tested out with fieldwork staff. We believe that it is really important to engage with the content and process ourselves first, before facilitating it with others. This allows for direct feedback given to the Development Manager and has allowed us to refine process and prepare for the work in the field. For example, dlalanathi has started engaging with Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights issues with youth in communities in the past two years. The TS sessions have been the ideal place to test out new material, as well as offer the team a place to become comfortable with the content.
In the creative space TS, fieldwork staff have been given the space to have fun, get a little messy, and laugh! In 2017 the team did ‘no bake baking’ to produce some yummy (sweeeet) goods, explored chalk painting and did dot-to-dot drawings with their non-dominant hand. These creative space times are full of laughter and chatter, are a chance for the team to stop and reconnect with each other as well as with their inner-child.
TS is vital; firstly because it helps the team to consistently examine our ongoing processes and reflect on what is working and what needs to change, especially for those processes the team has been implementing for several years. And secondly, because dlalanathi promotes the values of Love and Play in the community, we as a team need to ensure that we are embodying those values for ourselves; making time for self-care, fun and play in our own lives. TS contributes to be some of the “glue” that holds us together as a team.
Some questions you can ask yourselves as an organisation
  • How do you make space to review your processes in your work life as an organisation?
  • How do you make space for fun and laughter together as a team?
  • We’d love to hear your practices and ideas, or your thoughts on how you can build this into your organisation in 2018!
PS: dlalanathi has a ‘Developing Reflective Practice’ training. This programme is based on the understanding that in order to care well for others, caregivers and practitioners (NGO and CBO staff) need to be able to care for themselves. In order to be good leaders, leaders need to know themselves. The training is a series of 3 x 2 day workshops.
This programme offers:
  1. Self-care: creative activities and sustainable techniques for self-care, mindfulness, knowledge about self and work-life balance.
  2. Reflection tools: for reflection on work, developing professional practice, using theory to help understanding – debriefing and creative reflection
  3. Personal and professional tools in managing relationships
  4. Knowledge and skills for how organizations can support developing reflective practice.
Please contact Robyn Hemmens on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further details.
IMG 1673IMG 2717
 IMG 1679