Unsung heroes

I learnt an Afrikaans phrase the other day, “Hy suit aan die agterspeen” which means “He sucks on the hind teat”. In other words he’s the ‘runt of the litter’, getting insufficient nutrition and attention. I heard this phrase used to describe the Tshepong (Hope) Domestic Violence Centre here in Bloemfontein. I met a brilliant bunch of people there, doing wonderful things with hardly any resources. The staff didn’t have a ‘runt’ mentality though, they were a smart, quietly determined team of unsung heroes, from the kick-ass magistrate who doesn’t even have a door on her office, through to the smiley security team. (Think about it – no door… no confidentiality. Hmmmmm…)

Next door in Thuthuzela Rape Crisis Centre we heard about a 64 yr old lady, a victim who got turned away from a township police dept. because they needed to fill in the right forms, and they didn’t have a pen. Just press pause a minute here: they had no pen. It was one of many moments during the afternoon when you think to yourself, “This is not OK.”

“Revolution starts from the bottom” said the magistrate, Lani. That was the point in the visit when my ears pricked up. “We can’t wait for the government” she said – it’s commonly agreed now that community buy-in makes these kind of projects more sustainable. It rang bells with me because of our involvement with little businesses and churches in Lesotho and the Free State. It sounds bonkers, but money actually isn’t the golden solution.

Anyway back in Tshepeong, 5,000 protection order cases get dished out every year. Here’s a glimpse of their filing system to give you an idea.

IMG_2742Those numbers on the boxes represent a whole lot of people who are now safe who wouldn’t have been safe without this Centre. Let’s put some skin on them: A grandma who was being forced out of her home by the grandchildren.  People who were being stalked or bullied. Children who were being abused. A threatening person being removed from a home. Pensions being spent by the kids, or furniture being taken by the wider family. Children whose parents couldn’t sort out access without legal help.

They’ve all been helped with no proper court, no recording facilities, and no back-up. It can be a dangerous place to work as people get aggressive but the message that came through on my visit was “Watch this space and see what we will do….!” They were so inspiring. I really admire people who show up every morning and throw everything at their day, especially if their results are unseen.

The dream is to have permanent legal aid officers on sight, permanent police, permanent family advocacy… basically a whole lot of permanent. But what can a normal person do? It turns out there’s loads we ‘Normals’ can do – paint a wall, make some soup, rearrange the TV room… in my case I decided that for now, I’d write about my visit and boast on the centre’s behalf. So here I am!

What struck me after my visit was this: If everyone did their bit on their patch with the same passion as Lani and her crew of Supers, then half the battle would be won. If everyone used their particular skills/ talents/ time/ brains in the place where they find themselves, just imagine….

It was difficult to take photographs as I didn’t want to be insensitive and I wasn’t there in any kind of official role… but sometimes God gives you a leg-up in those moments and here was mine on the way out, just after I’d plucked up the courage to even speak for the first time.

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Here’s one of the security guys, Isaac. See he has just tied the door to the fire extinguisher to hold it in place? The front door to the Tshepong Centre was literally hanging out of its’ frame. This is not OK!

I don’t know how to finish this post so I’ve had a peak at the stats (which I usually ignore) and I can say that over 2, 000 people have read this blog at some point or other. That’s potentially 2,000 patches that we can personally change, even if it’s just to say hello to a neighbour.

What is going on in your patch today?