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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