Sunday, December 27, 2009

Staff Reflect on their Highlights (and Lowlights) of 2009

Nicole Paulsen asked Trauma Centre staff to write about their highs and lows for 2009. This is the result:

Nicole Paulsen
Highlights: Definitely and without a doubt the Global Project evaluation meeting in Cairo, Egypt. Since the age of eleven, I have always dreamed of one day going to the land of the Pharaohs and in July 2009 I did. OH, WHAT A MAJESTIC PLACE, filled with such an enriching history. Not only was it an amazing experience meeting Doctors and Psychologists from 5 other countries but also learning about the various issues they face in their countries, and the interventions they make with regard to the rehabilitation of victims of torture. Presenting the global project data on behalf of the Political Violence Programme, with Gugu was quite exciting as the entire team worked extremely hard on this. Finally seeing the fruits of our hard work, made that moment a very proud and spectacular one.

Lowlights: The incident in De Doorns made me realise that there is a lot of unresolved issues and misperceptions between foreign nationals and South Africans. However my lowlight is seeing young, innocent children not only forced to face such traumatic experiences but also forced to suffer the consequences of xenophobic attacks, something they did not ask for, something they should not have to endure. Witnessing this was very tough for me, but more importantly encouraged me to continue the fight against the violation of people’s, especially children’s human rights.

Miriam Fredericks

Highlights: There were so many:
The Guguletu Project Launch!!
The UN International Day in Support of Torture survivors on 26th June at the Nelson Mandela Gateway
The dialogues on community violence
The GLOBAL project Research - WOW what an achievement!!
The GLOBAL project evaluation meeting in Cairo - wonderful participation: 6 countries meeting, sharing experiences, resources and knowledge.
Witnessing the community theatre staged at 5 schools by our CVP program.
Presenting at an International Conference in Bulgaria, highlighting 2nd generation issues.
The amalgamation of work at Trauma Centre, teams working well together and knowing we are contributing not only to our communities but also the development of skills in our therapists.
The enormous training of professionals and volunteers we have accomplished for the year.
Serving as a council member on the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture victims/survivors.
The support from local funders, Investec, HCI, Dept.of Social Development,UNODC and our international partners, Oak Foundation,European Union and UNVFVT.

Lowlights: Very sadly we have had many personal losses at the Trauma Centre this year. Not only do we work with pain and the major loss of our clients but we had 6 staff members’ lose relatives in this year!! However THE BIGGEST LOSS -was that of a colleague from the Gaza Strip who attended the Global evaluation meeting with us in Cairo and could not reach home because the Israeli army closed the border. So, although his home was within eyesight, he died in Egypt, while waiting for the 2 weeks before the border was re-opened.
Long live the struggle against oppression and torture globally.

Dr Abu Mo'alek, the Gazan psychiatrist, who died in Egypt in August without being able to get home, is the man standing on the extreme right

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Highlights and Lowlights contd.

Donna Miller

Highlight: When I started working at the Trauma Centre my goal was to enhance my counselling skills before becoming involved in community work. Since being involved in the Gugulethu project I have developed such passion for the work I do in the project.

Not only has this experience been a huge change in my career but a wonderful and great learning experience as well. The launch of the Gugulethu project was and for this year remains my best highlight.

Lowlight: During my internship here at the Trauma Centre, Mrs Heidi Wichman was my supervisor - not only did she offer me an enormous amount of guidance and support , she also kept me motivated, and encouraged me to always think ‘outside the box’. Without her, I would not be the counsellor I am today. Saying goodbye to her is my lowlight.

Gugu Shabalala
Highlight: The opening launch of the Gugulethu project - without the support of the Gugulethu Community, the launch would not have been as successful as it was. The support, involvement and interest shown by all was amazing.

Lowlight: One of the greatest things about camping with children is that you are afforded the time to connect with your inner child again (big, loud sigh); not being able to go on all the 2nd generation camps this year was definitely a lowlight for me.

Lisa Godana
Highlight: Organising and seeing through the Victim Empowerment conference which took place in Wellington. Also being appreciated by the Department of Social Development in front a massive crowd of guests, was very nice.

Lowlight: There is no lowlight to mention at the moment but I can share a valuable lesson learnt during this year and that is: never underestimate any task and always be prepared.

Carmen Low Shang
Highlight: Presenting the Trauma Centre’s work at a conference in Bulgaria: "Political Persecution in Different Contexts: What are the psychological consequences for the subject and the Next Generations?" My presentation was enjoyed by all and great interest was specifically shown towards our 2nd generation camps and the use of the outdoors/wilderness as our classroom.

Lowlight: Working with victims of the May 2008 Xenophobia, and realising that even with ongoing supportive counselling, their physical conditions and the threat to their security has not changed much, even though a year has passed since the frightening event!!! It has been difficult as a counsellor walking this journey with them!!

Melvina Carelse

Highlight: Since I am new at the Trauma Centre I don’t have any lowlights but my one highlight was being given the opportunity to go to George and do the Victim Empowerment Programme training, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There’s just so much exposure here at the Trauma Centre. I LOVE IT!!

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Thursday, December 24, 2009


The achievements of the Trauma Centre in 2009 included addressing community violence and strengthening international partnerships:

The Trauma Centre in partnership with the Institute for Healing of Memories held two dialogues. In Dialogue one, a presentation on “Colonisation, Apartheid and historical trauma: is this an important set of risk factors for male violence and what can we do about it?” was presented by Professor Sandy Lazarus, Kopano Ratele and Shahnaaz Suffla from the (Medical Research Council and UNISA).

Subsequent to the presentation small group discussions took place in six break away groups. The groups were asked to reflect on the current causes of community violence in their communities as well as brainstorming a way forward. In the second dialogue Mr Cyril Adonis (CSVR-Centre for the study of violence and Reconciliation) presented his research work on the 2nd generation. Three break away groups were formed subsequent to the presentation. The groups had to reflect on the following: The past and its impact on the new generation, the contributing factors of violent behaviour exhibited by the new generation and ways forward on bridging the trans-generational gap.

The Trauma Centre conducted a situational analysis assessment with a group of Zimbabweans who were affected by the xenophobia outbreak in De Doorns: The staff members had informal conversations with the displaced group to determine their perceptions and interpretation of the situation. From this it was noted that much advocacy around foreign national experiences and rights needs to happen as well as psycho-education for both South African citizens and foreign nationals, as misperceptions seem to be one of the many leading causes of xenophobia.


The launch of the Gugulethu project, with the support of the Gugulethu community as well as all involved proved, to be a great success. With this project the Trauma Centre hopes to ensure employment of an eclectic approach in dealing with the root causes of crime in the community.

Since 2008 the Political Violence Programme has been involved in collecting data about torture for the Global Project. In July, staff attended the Global Project evaluation meeting in Cairo, Egypt where this data was presented.. Six countries meeting, sharing knowledge and interventions on the rehabilitation of victims of torture was an amazing experience for all. Field practice experiences were also transferred and an opportunity was created for all to engage with each other about the history and cultures of our various home countries. To finally see the fruits of our hard work, made the Global Project evaluation meeting a very proud and rewarding experience.

The Political Violence Programme’s work with the 2nd generation was presented at an international conference "Political Persecution in Different Contexts: What are the psychological consequences for the subject and the Next Generations?" in Sofia, Bulgaria. Great interest was specifically shown towards our 2nd generation camps and the use of the outdoors/wilderness as our classrooms.

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Further achievements of the Trauma Centre in 2009 included a torture awareness raising programme during the 16 days of Activism and capacity building of individuals and organisations.Miliswa Sobukwe-Whyte, Carmen Low-Shang & Fiona from the Political Violence Program

The Children and Violence programme commemorated 16 days of activism by hosting dramas at 5 primary schools in the Western Cape. The objective of the dramas was to advocate against violence towards women and children as well as to educate children, teachers and parents about their rights and how to access help.

On the 26th of June the Trauma Centre commemorated the UN International day in support of torture survivors at the Nelson Mandela Gateway. Having a candle vigil and a screening of the documentary “My Brothers Keeper” assisted in raising awareness and allowed the Trauma Centre to publicly advocate for those who survived gross human rights violations, more specifically torture. The venue for this day could not have been more ideal as being at the Nelson Mandela Gateway allowed many a chance to reflect on and acknowledge those who fought for the liberation of our country from the Apartheid system. Walking over the bridge towards the gateway filled the Trauma Centre staff with so much joy, appreciation and pride with regard to how far our country has come.

On a very positive note, the Trauma Centre team has expanded, three new staff members have been appointed, a warm welcome to Mrs Nomvuyo Mabusela – co-ordinator of the Political Violence programme, Mrs Asma Achmat-coordinator the Children and Violence Programme and Miss Melvina Carelse – counselling psychologist in the Children and Violence Programme.

From September through to December all Trauma Centre staff participated in the Victim Empowerment Programme by training Victim Support Room volunteers who work in the Police Stations of the Western Cape. The training was informative not only for the volunteers who attended but also for the staff who facilitated. Topics covered were: knowing the victim, policy and procedure, ethics, the role of the volunteer, trauma, volunteer and victim rights as well as self care. Feedback was positive and the volunteers reported feeling more confident in returning to the victim support room and implementing everything they learnt.

“Years end is neither an end nor a beginning, but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us” Hal Borland

In the light of these wise words may the Trauma Centre with all its wisdom, experience and commitment towards prevention, continue to accomplish many more glorious triumphs.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Join a Debate About the "Shoot to Kill" Slogan

The Director of the Trauma Centre, Vimla Pillay, put out the following press statement on the 15th October about her concerns regarding the "Shoot to Kill" slogan. We would like people to read it and join a discussion on the blog about whether you agree or disagree, or any other comment you would like to make (bearing in mind that hate speech etc. will not pass the moderator). If you don't have a gmail account, when you make a comment, put your name in the box if you want to, and choose 'Anonymous' to send. We would like to hear from all of you - this is an issue that affects every single one of us. If you have been a victim or survivor of criminal violence, we would especially appreciate your comments.

The Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture strongly condemns the “Shoot to Kill” slogan. We consider this to be a grossly irresponsible slogan, as it permits Carte Blanche shooting without forcing one to stop, think and restore rational thought under any threatening circumstances.

We also strongly condemn the killing of police officers, as they are appointed as the protectors of the citizens of the country however, this does not dismiss the need for a responsible approach. The need for a humane, logical and strategic approach to address crime and violence is urgent and this is what must be addressed and planned for as a matter of priority. Making irresponsible statements like the “Shoot to Kill” slogan aggravates and escalates the culture of crime and violence.

Mankind inherently seeks justice and freedom and should always take a stand against injustices and the violation of human rights. We as a nation need to help our citizens to hold human life and human dignity in absolute reverence. Violence begets violence we cannot use violent methods to reduce and condemn violence, this sadly results in innocent lives being lost and it intensifies anger and frustration resulting in a sense of helplessness and subsequently to greater desperation. This in turn leads to desperate often irrational and irresponsible means to finding appropriate solutions. All people need to learn how, to momentarily calm down and this simple skill may prevent a number of unnecessary deaths of innocent people. It is imperative that SAPS officials be trained at a trainee level to exercise judgement in action, even in situations that require split second decision making.

The constitution of South Africa and the Bill of Rights respects human rights and should be the fundamental principle underlying all the service provided by the country. Capital punishment was abolished and it is ironic that a decade later, we hear a statement like “Shoot to Kill”. By addressing the problem of crime and violence in South Africa, we need to simultaneously teach each citizen including perpetrators, officials of law and order, and all others, that we respect every individual’s right to life. Victims become perpetrators and this perpetuates the cycles of violence, if we do not stop and evaluate the current crisis and the way forward we will continue to be the crime capital of the world.

A country like South Africa was transformed from a violent and oppressive regime through dialogue, negotiations and patience. Crime and violence too can be appropriately and effectively addressed if there is greater investment in finding the best strategic and well thought out approach. Let us all take responsibility to do this together.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

STOP PRESS! Social Unrest in De Doorns

Over the weekend, trouble began to brew in the agricultural area of De Doorns between locals and (mostly) Zimbabwean nationals. Yesterday about 1000 -2000 people boarded trucks and police vehicles and went to stay temporarily in tents. A team from the Trauma Centre was asked to come and assess the situation with regard to mental health requirements. They went this morning; so watch this space and we will try to keep you updated. We get bulletins from various role players.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Interns Reflect on their Experience

Eugene Booysen: (B. Psych. UWC)
The first month was challenging due to having to adapt from a University environment to one of work. Personally this process was educational and contributed to my personal growth. A significant object at the TC for me, was the tree in the middle of the courtyard. Just as the tree is going through seasonal changes, so did I; gradually achieving my goals and finding my true self.

In conclusion, my journey at the Trauma Centre awakened my potential and abilities. Carl Jung highlighted that one’s vision would only become clear when one looks within oneself. Those who look outside, dream; but those who look within, awaken.

Trevor Tshabalala (Final year B. Psych at UWC – intern for 3 months):
Working at the TC has been a very insight-gaining experience in counselling. You are never just treating the trauma – trauma is almost like a mask for other unresolved issues which enables the person to seek help.
It has also broadened my scope of knowledge about trauma and how it is related to other mental disorders like depression and anxiety, from which so many people in our communities suffer, but are left untreated. It has been an amazing journey so far, working with a group of committed, supportive and knowledgeable trauma counsellors.

Luleka Soko (Qualified nurse and final year B. Psych at UWC)

I personally gained my confidence at the Trauma Centre because I started to practise all the theory that I gained from University. The correlation between learning and practice became real e.g. learning about xenophobia and then experiencing how the Trauma Centre responds to foreigners. The historical background of the organisation is in itself, indicative of unity amongst our communities. The different programs attempt to build up new, psychologically healthy communities. In addition, the vision of bringing free services closer to people shows that Trauma Centre staff care. I also think that trauma work is the key - for people who have suffered from other mental illnesses, traumatic events often trigger the underlying distress e.g. depression.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Bruises - some welcome; others painful!

On a weekend in early October, the Political Violence Team facilitated a camp for the offspring of anti-apartheid activists, torture survivors and ex-combatants i.e. the second generation.
This is what one of the facilitators, Carmen Low-Shang wrote on her return. This work is both difficult and rewarding:
We had a wonderful camp with participants making emotional connections all over the place...
So our process this weekend still has me speechless...
And at the same time, I want to tell you all that it really was not easy!!!

For some reason, or maybe the fact that we had 30 teenagers on our hands, it was absolute CHAOS!!! I suppose that's normal to some extent. Being aware that I may be writing on behalf of the others, the weekend really brought some serious challenges, and I think all facilitators (Nicole, Miliswa, Trevor, Fiona and myself) were really pushed and in some ways we have taken an (emotional) and physical bruising!!! (Two of the facilitators were ill the next day and unable to come into work!) We were confronted with resistance of the most stubborn kind, fighting, lying, stealing, disrespecting!!! And we also had 200+ steps climbing down and back up the mountain just to enjoy the beach!!! OUCH!!!
Our lives have all been changed forever... and best of all... We made it through - survived, together!
Carmen went on to explain why she feels the camp changed her life:

My life's work is to make a positive difference in the lives of others. A particular moment at the camp where I and other facilitators felt very touched, was the way in which one participant (who has been through the camp process for the 4th time!) was able to release emotion – she was crying - but it was a "peaceful" and calm release which made us feel that yes, it was a powerful moment in her life. Yet at the same time she seemed very comfortable to release her emotions in our presence. I'll just add that this particular participant gave us "hell" on the first camp. She had a resistance to engaging with us of the worst kind. We were unable to break through up until now. It is seeing the change and knowing that you have touched someone's life in a way... that they are then able to forgive their parents and we are able to bridge the gap between the two generations...

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Farewell to Terry Dowdall

Prof. Leslie London, Dr Terry Dowdall and Dr Shuaib Manjra
On October 1st, at a small AGM, the Trauma Centre, in bidding farewell to Terry Dowdall, acknowledged the enormous contribution that he made to the Trauma Centre; first of all, by starting it together with Leslie London, and then serving on its board for 17 years. Dr Dowdall spoke poignantly of the journey he had made as a white South African and a psychologist when he was first asked to provide services to ex-detainees who had experienced torture during the 70's, leading him eventually to setting up the Trauma Centre and serving on its Board.

More to follow......

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Training for Trauma Rooms

Trauma Centre Staff together with practitioners from Rape Crisis and Nicro recently developed a standardised basic training for new Victim Support Volunteers who work in Trauma Rooms at police stations across the Western Cape. This training is now being rolled out sponsored by Business Against Crime and the Department of Community Safety. So far the Trauma Centre has completed two of these 3-day trainings for volunteers coming from different police stations. These volunteers are mostly women with families and busy lives and yet they give up evenings and weekends to be in the frontline of support for victim/survivors.
Miriam Fredericks, who did the second training, wrote: The participants were amazing - people with such compassion and so dedicated. I was humbled by their strength and honoured to be in their presence.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

A Busy Week

Trauma Centre staff were extremely busy last week running workshops and seminars all over the place.
We had our first Victim Empowerment training this year for the Dept. of Community Safety, training Trauma Room volunteers. These volunteers work at police stations, containing victims in the initial stages of their response to incidents of criminal violence and trauma.
The Children and Violence team were training parent volunteers, raising awareness and addressing issues of violence.
The Political Violence team together with another NGO, Healing of Memories, held a morning seminar attended by over 50 people in which Professor Sandy Lazarus presented a paper on the root causes of community violence, torture and xenophobia. This was followed by small group discussions in which possible interventions were put forward


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Sunday, September 6, 2009


The focus of the Trauma Centre's work is changing. We have always combined therapeutic with preventive work, partnerships and advocacy. We started in 1993 with addressing the needs of victims of political violence and torture, but by the year 2000, a much larger proportion of our clients were the victims of crime.

2008 was a watershed year for us and for the country. The crisis in Zimbabwe (which meant that many refugees crossed our borders), and the lack of service delivery in our country, led to outbreaks of xenophobic violence in cities and towns. It has led us and many others to try to think more strategically about where to focus our attention. For over a decade the Children and Violence Project has worked to prevent violence in schools, tackling the problem holistically school by school.

Many groups and organisations (e.g. Action for a Safe South Africa) are now trying to think about the root causes of violence in our country as well as strengthening the criminal justice system. Those of us who work in the field of mental health, have a contribution to make because of our understanding of the mechanisms of trans-generational transmission of trauma(International Handbook of Multi-generational Legacies of Trauma edited by Yael Danieli. Plenum Press. New York.1998) and how these intersect within families to produce insecure attachments in the next generation, resulting in aggressive and violent behaviour.(Felicity de Zulueta's "From Pain to Violence: The Traumatic Roots of Destructiveness". Whurr Publishers. London. 1993). The Political Violence Program in their work with the second generation, and the new Gugulethu Project which aims to empower and psychoeducate parents and pre-school children are the pilot projects in which we hope to be able to address these issues.
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What do you think of this newsletter?

We welcome any comments you would like to make about this newsletter. Feedback in the first month came from:
Lorna Levy, Sea Point: I looked through the blog......very interesting. I will now be able to follow the workings of the Trauma Centre by going onto your blogspot! I thought the organisation had folded.
Joseph Schwartz, The Bowlby Centre, London: It's beautiful. The graphics are brilliant. I'd like to consider the art work of Lauraine Vivian as a cover for our next issue. (Blog editor: J. Schwartz is the editor of "Attachment")
Dr Connie Valkin, Johannesburg: SO IMPRESSIVE!! Well done!! I thought it looked beautiful. . GREAT IDEA
Clare Linder, Cape Town: Thank you for the news of the Trauma Centre blog spot. It is beautifully designed and so interesting and such a brilliant idea. I believe it very important to network and keep in touch with what is happening.

Reactions from Trauma Centre Staff Members follow ......

Nicole Paulsen: Absolutely magnificent, the blog is appealing to the eye, the content is enjoyable, the quotes/comments from staff is unique, the blog is an excellent and above all creative way of getting all involved. Photographs (especially of events) always spark interest. Keeping cool - The Trauma Centre Reception Desk was my favourite part. Thanks for putting all this together, the blog truly makes our centre and work come alive and gives us something to always look forward to.
Heidi Wichman: I just checked it out and WOW. Sounds like an organisation I want to work for. I agree with Nicole it makes our work come alive. Really interesting and exciting, I'm even motivated to write something myself. Thanks for the effort, well done.
Miriam Fredericks: Fabulous; looks excellent. Really putting us on the map.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Launch of the Gugulethu Project

Gugu Shabalala and superintendent Ntsezo at the launch

Today -3rd September 2009 - a new community-based project of the Trauma Centre was launched with music, singing, dancing, prayers and speeches at Ikhwesi Community Hall. Gugu Shabalala and Donna Miller have worked tirelessly over the past six months to forge relationships and partnerships with people and organisations in Gugulethu. This was evident at the launch. Organisations present were Ikamva Labantu, Helping Hands, the Department of Community Development and 2 nearby schools. The guest speaker was Superintendent Ntsezo of the South African Police Service. He was very welcoming of the Trauma Centre’s initiative.

In terms of high crime statistics the Western Cape is 10th in the world; Iraq is 7th. He said that Gugulethu (Gugs) is a beautiful community, heavily challenged by crime and agreed with our Director that tackling the underlying causes of violence was the way to go. He pointed out that violence in Gugs is internal; criminals don’t come from elsewhere - young people don’t like where they are in their lives and become trapped in drug use and parents are not supported. He added that the person directly affected by violence is not the only victim – their immediate family, relatives and friends are also traumatised.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Opening of Lauraine Vivian Exhibition

An exhibition of artwork by Lauraine Vivian called The Gift Returned opened at the Cape Gallery on July 26th 2009. She is an ex-client of the Trauma Centre, and she produced these computer-generated graphics while undergoing EMDR therapy with Margaret Green, a staff member working in Trauma Response. In opening the exhibition, Margaret talked about the traumatic impact of the threat of violence - something the artist had experienced when she received a death threat while director of a community-based health project.

Lauraine Vivian (right) with Margaret Green.

Short talk by Margaret Green "Healing from Violence and Threatened Violence".

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reflecting on May 2008

When xenophobic violence erupted in the Western Cape in Du Noon in May 2008, the Trauma Centre was requested by the City’s Disaster Management to co-ordinate a mental health response to the crisis – a role we have played at various times since 2005. The magnitude of this crisis was far greater than any we had been involved with before. Twenty thousand people were displaced - so we called on professional volunteers to help. 40 psychologists, social workers and chaplains attended briefings and of these, 20 members of the Cape Town Psychoanalytic Society offered to go to various sites that the City set up in church halls and municipal camps. Six members of the Society reported back this week by presenting a paper on their unconscious motives for volunteering and their reactions to the plight of the displaced people they encountered. They had supported each other by writing e-mails - thereby creating a space for reflecting on their feelings and experiences, and they also met regularly.They were not sure what they were able to achieve but what they offered was "the continuity of our mindful presence". This did seem to make a difference to some individuals and sometimes to a whole site.
Municipal camp at Soetwater before the rains came
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

International Torture Day

International Torture Day on 26th June 2009 was marked by a very successful event organized by the Political Violence Project staff. It was held at the Mandela Gateway to Robben Island situated at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town. Read More or Comment

The Political Violence Program

The Political Violence team runs a variety of workshops, weekend camps and other events for ex-combatants and their families – the second generation. This picture shows how a young second generation participant felt about attending one of the weekend camps. Read More or Comment

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Self-care by Trauma Professionals

I asked the service-delivery staff what they do to deal with the stresses of their work. Here are some of their answers:

Miriam Fredericks: "I believe in using what is accessible and does not cost much. So, venturing into our garden here at the back of the Trauma Centre when overstressed and taking in the beauty around, the view of the mountains and watching the birds.

In summer, swimming just does everything for me. Now, in winter, I walk along the beach front - it’s the same - the views are stunningly beautiful and the mountains again I find very inspirational and awesome. The sounds of the waves are melodic and in the Cape storms they are truly majestic.

But now the best for last, I know it is not always practical, but introduce a child into the family. We have recently had a new addition and she is such a joy to all! A centre piece of attraction, I lose myself in playing with her, in cajoling and just being with her, and it even brings everyone together: there are more visitors as we call one another when she is around and just celebrate the sheer blessing of life!"

Gugu Shabalala: "For me a good Friday out with friends helps me forget and keeps me entertained. Also a good book about powerful female relationships and good wit (and at the moment Marian Keys is the lady of the moment in terms of authors) acts as an escape from everything else. Oh and a good season of "UGLY BETTY" also helps (I find it very funny) about the vanitys of this world."

Carmen Low-Shang: "When I get home from a very busy day at the office, I drop my bags, get onto the floor, and laugh and play with the little kids.Gives me the giggles just thinking about it."

Margaret Green: "I watch TV - movies; DVD's, football, cricket and Isidingo. This distracts me from all the horrors of the day. Lately, I was told about a wonderful DVD shop. This place will keep me going for years! Currently, I am working my way through 7 series of "The West Wing" - very clever and funny; and sometimes poignant and moving.I also go to yoga twice a week - it's body-mind nurture; and I try to get out into nature for a beach or country walk at least once a week."
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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Keeping Cool - The Trauma Centre Reception Desk

Norma Neethling’s is the friendly face and warm voice that has greeted thousands of traumatised clients, visitors and colleagues to the Trauma Centre. An observant visitor, someone who drove her friend to a session and waited for her in reception, watched Norma in action for a while. She noticed how many people came in and all the demands for her attention, and then she remarked at how professional and in control Norma appeared to be all the time. Norma says, “I feel that what she noticed is correct; no matter how upset I am, I never show how I am feeling. I have to be friendly and make everything OK. It is very nice when someone notices and acknowledges what I do.”

"The Right Place"

“Something very special like that happened once” Norma continues, “a blind woman came in to the Centre. She was confused and really not sure if she was in the right place. I asked her to sit down anyway and went to make her a hot drink. While I was gone, she told Olga who replaced me, that just from the empathy in my voice, she knew she could relax. This had to be the right place!

Norma says that it is gratifying being in reception and seeing the change on people’s faces after they have had a session in the TRP room opposite. In reception, they may have been hanging their heads while waiting, and an hour later, they leave smiling. What makes her day are the children. They are often very amusing and they usually love the pond in the courtyard. Sometimes there are sad people who can’t wait and just bawl their story out to her before their session.


When the xenophobic attacks started in May 2008 and thereafter, people came streaming in. Often they were not very satisfied with what the Trauma centre could offer them. Norma said she kept her cool. She was friendly and polite and that calms them down. Someone demanded to see whoever was above the Director and we managed to calm him down and get him to leave.

Norma is the person who releases the security gate to all and sundry. She says she is always cautious. Cars in front have been broken into and other neighbouring organisations have had break-ins and robberies. She relies on her gut feelings. When she feels threatened, she removes her rings under the desk and then lets the person in. We can call our security guard to escort people out when they are causing trouble and this does happen occasionally.

Talking to Norma about her job was illuminating – I realised how much we rely on her maturity and judgement, her split-second intuition, and her considerable social skills.

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