Masicorp volunteers spend much of their time assisting children in the classroom; however, last Friday it was the Masicorp volunteers who went back to class themselves. Together with some of the staff from Ukhanyo Primary school around fifteen volunteers spent the afternoon in the school’s English Lab. The session was part of Masicorp’s volunteer training programme and had a particular focus on child protection. Many volunteers join organisations like Masicorp full of enthusiasm and excited to be able to help. Despite the excellent professional skills that volunteers bring to the organisation not all are prepared for the realities of working with township families and sessions like this are essential for both volunteers and their beneficiaries in the community.
The training was supported by the attendance of senior staff from the school and in particular from Dennis Vusile, Masiphumelele’s social welfare officer, who gave the opening address. While volunteers want to spend as much of their time helping children with their education it is also important to be aware of the social issues that may prevent effective learning. Dennis gave an excellent overview of the difficult situation facing many children is a highly densely populated community like Masiphumelele, where poverty is a daily fact of life. Economic and social circumstances dictate that sadly some children will suffer neglect or abuse and it is likely that volunteers will experience children in this situation at some stage.
The session continued under the guidance of experienced Masicorp volunteer Lisa Pederson, who shared her past teaching experience and work with disadvantaged children. Through a series of paper exercises volunteers became familiar with Masicorp’s own code of conduct for working with children – previously established by both volunteers and beneficiaries of Masicorp’s work in the community. It was then onto a series of role playing exercises to test out the theory.
During the role play it was quite a hard task to get into the mind of a young child suffering physical abuse in their home environment. Of course it is also a hard task to be the responsible adult that an affected child trusts enough to open up to. As Lisa advised everyone on a number of occasions, for a child to make that disclosure is one of the bravest things they will ever do. Whatever happens next the memories of that moment of finally telling a trusted adult will stay with that person for the rest of their lives. How to react appropriately and the responsibility of how to use the information was the day’s key outcome for the volunteers.
It was not an easy afternoon and the subject matter was distressing at times. It is however crucially important to for us all to be aware of these issues and be ready to act if needed. Everybody admitted at the start of the session that there had been at least one moment in their lives when they let something pass that they later wished they had acted on. When it comes to the children that Masicorp are entrusted to work with, this is something that the day’s training should prevent from happening during volunteer work.
Finally we must also thank the staff of Nonny’s bakery in Masiphumelele. The bakery was established with assistance from Masicorp and provided everyone with the delicious cakes that ended the session in style.