The Circle founder Annie Lennox shares her most recent visit to Nonceba, a family counselling centre and shelter for women supported by The Circle. Nonceba is located in Khayelitsha, a township in Western Cape, South Africa.
Its vast spread of corrugated iron shacks is breathtaking in size and scale, while living conditions are humbling.
The African sun burns at intensely high temperatures, turning shacks into roasting ovens. Fire is a constant hazard, spreading in seconds and devastating people’s lives on a regular basis.
The cold winter season brings freezing winds and heavy rains to flood and soak the thousands of vulnerable dwelling places, which are barely fit for shelter of any kind.
TB, pneumonia and HIV/AIDS are rife in impoverished communities like these, where generations of people survive without decent housing, services and facilities, safety or security, exposed to lack and abuse at every level. According to statistics, more than half the residents are unemployed and living in abject poverty. Criminality, gang violence, alcoholism and drug abuse fester and thrive. Young children growing up in this environment have limited prospects ahead of them as young adults.
As well as all this, there are inordinately high levels of reported rape and violence against women and children. An estimated ONE in THREE children living in Khayelitsha have suffered serious sexual abuse by the age of 18. The lack of effective community emergency intervention facilities, with an over-burdened police force and an under-resourced state welfare system, results in an inability to tackle the burden of child abuse and domestic violence.
In an effort to respond to this terrible situation, the Nonceba Family Counselling Centre started from very humble beginnings in 1997, as a two-room consulting practice run by volunteers from the community.
In 2008, the organization received a major financial boost to create a new purpose built centre —a residential safe house able to accommodate 21 women and children with a play therapy room, counselling suite, training facilities, community hall and offices.
On a recent visit to Nonceba, I witnessed some of the wonderful work they are doing first hand.
On my arrival I was greeted at the entrance with a warm hug and lots of laughter from Pauline, who runs the centre and is an awe inspiring women and children’s champion!
(From left to right) Annie, a former service user at Nonceba and Pauline.
She introduced me to members of the staff team who were working that day, while she showed me around the centre. Nonceba truly is a small oasis of safety, security and healing for women and their children in the midst of a consistently dangerous and threatening environment.
The range of services Nonceba offers is comprehensive and holistic. Social workers are available to help women seek and receive the support they are entitled to, and counsellors help women and children deal with the traumas they are faced with. There are play spaces and simple bedrooms in the safe houses, where mothers can stay together with their children. Child care is provided. A crèche is run, so mothers have a safe and caring place to leave their children whilst they are at work, and the community hall is a place where past and current service users, as well as staff, can come together for support, encouragement and laughs. Once the women do eventually leave Nonceba, continued support is available after their stay.
Going into the child’s therapy room was a poignant and sobering experience, realising as I did that the children who come here have been hurt and traumatised by adults in an inconcievable way.
Pictured above are some of the dolls used in therapeutic sessions with children who have been sexually abused, so the therapist can gauge a better assessment as to what has actually taken place in a non-invasive way. These dolls really brought the sadly disturbing truth home to me as to what is happening to so many children.
Nonceba understands the need to deal with the underlying issues and give the women the skills and resilience to manage once they leave.
It was wonderful to sit quietly in a yoga class, where women could partake in a gently healing session of breathing and stretching their bodies through this beautiful practice with a qualified and experienced teacher. Having opportunities like these are uncommon in townships to say the least. This was a heartwarming and deeply touching moment for me.
Once the class was over I introduced myself and spoke about The Circle and our shared purpose, in the need for respect and empowerment for women everywhere in the world.
Like so many grass-roots NGOs the need for these services is overwhelming, yet funding is neither guaranteed or sufficient to respond to the full requirement.
The SA government contributes towards costs for a woman and her family to stay in the facility for up to three months while receiving shelter, counselling and trauma healing, but this isn’t really a long enough time frame for lasting transformation to take place.
On one wall at Nonceba there is a specially sculpted “tree” where they hang “leaves” with the names of donors on them. It was wonderful to see The Circle leaf.
I feel so proud that The Circle is making a significant contribution to Nonceba and the women and children of Khayelitsha, in helping to respond to some of the desperate need, and offer support in a situation where there is so little to be accessed.