Valley Development Projects (VDP) and its staff is one of the projects that The Family Counselling Centre (TFCC) supports by providing workshops and debrief sessions at highly reduced fees. VDP uses an integrated development approach to combat a number of social issues, alleviate poverty and address the imbalances of the past; based on the vision of “a healthy, self-reliant community with sufficient resources for people who are confident to make their own informed choices in a constantly changing environment”. This recent staff development workshop was held by Andrea Nettel in June 2021.
The topic of this workshop was “Facing Obstacles Together”.
After the initial short introductions, Andrea broke the group into pairs. She instructed the groups to explain to one another the meaning behind their names; how they came to have that name; and how they felt about their name. Once the origins of each person’s name were discussed in pairs, it was then presented to the group by their partner. In having the participants explain the meaning behind their name, be it of cultural, religious, or personal origins, and how they came to have that name, allowed each person to share small aspects of their story and provided for a deeper understanding between the participants. This activity provided both an ice breaker for the participants, and to start a conversation around perceptions. Perceptions we have of each other; perceptions we have of ourselves and the perceptions of the general public of VDP.
While discussing the general public’s perception of VDP, Andrea asked the participants to list some of the more negative perceptions that they have heard regarding their work in the community. It was through this discussion that it became clear that many of the perceptions the pubic hold over VDP reflects resistance toward the organization as a mental health service, and a lack of understanding regarding the healing process.
It is this resistance and lack of understanding that forms the largest obstacle for community development and mental health practitioners.
Throughout this discussion of resistance experienced by the VDP employees, it became clear that the reason for this resistance in the community was based on a lack of understanding of what the healing process truly looks and feels like. This lack of understanding was then linked to the perception that the healing process is linear.
However, as each of the participants agreed, Andrea explained how healing looks different for each individual and is almost never as simple as a linear process. Healing, according to Andrea’s demonstration, can be confusing, scary and send you on many twists and turns throughout the process.
For the Community vs With the Community
Andrea continued by focusing the discussion on the obstacles faced by the VDP employees themselves. These obstacles or challenges reflect the pressures that the VDP employees face while working in the Ocean View and Masiphumelele areas. These pressures include the individuals that they are seeing as clients; the community as a whole that they are wanting to service; the dangers of gangs; and even such structures as local government and politics. Once these obstacles and pressures were discussed, Andrea handed out an illustration of the individual VDP employee with all these concepts placed above them. Andrea then asked how the VDP employees felt while looking at the illustration. The overwhelming feeling shared by the group was of being frustrated and feeling helpless.
Andrea then used their feelings of frustration and helplessness, to help express the feelings of resistance and confusion that the general public feels regarding receiving the services of VDP. She was able to do so by using these same structures experienced by the VDP employees as obstacles and pressures, but by placing the client into the centre of the illustration instead of the VDP employee. In doing so, the feeling of helplessness became a call to help the individual, and the pressures felt by these employees changed to structures that they can utilise in order to help their clients. Andrea was able to show the employees how they have the power to educate the public of these various structures in order to provide a fully rounded healing process and how, in doing so, empowers the VDP itself to have a greater impact on the community.
To conclude the workshop, Andrea expressed how difficult it can be at times to be in the profession of mental health and community development, especially when facing challenges and difficulties experienced in our communities and in our own lives. She went on to explain how important it is to not only help our clients and ourselves, but also to extend grace and support to one another; which in turn, encourages understanding and improves teamwork within VDP.