A good part of my time at Phumelela Project was spent on the road with the in-house counsellor. Phumelela Project has an effective outreach program, as such, our clients were spread out all across the country. Since most of them had difficulties getting to us, we had to go with to them. Each client has a scheduled visit at least once a month. This was when I got the opportunity to meet and get to know some of the young people receiving support from the organization. I took on the role of a peer mentor.
At first these visits were quite difficult for me, even though I had been fully prepared for them. I realized that I have been living a rather sheltered life and was ignorant about some of the hardships that young people in Swaziland face. For instance, I was oblivious to the fact that there is a significant number of homeless young people, or the fact that drug and substance abuse is very prevalent among Swazi youth. To add to that, I had never stepped foot in a court room, let alone a prison, before this internship.
I met a number of young adults from different backgrounds seeking the same kind of support from the organization: reintegration into society. Most of them were struggling to find their feet in society because of their past traumas and battles. As mentioned in my previous blog post, majority of our clients had been raised in care centers, and some had been in prison for a while. Therefore, they had difficulty to find employment and/or even a sense of belonging in the world. Working alongside the counsellor taught me a lot about understanding the effects of trauma and neglect on a young person’s mental health. Moreover, I was learned how to notice triggers and warning signs thus, being able to assist our clients more. This aspect of my internship required me to be kinder, compassionate and very cautious about the things I did or say. And these are things which we often overlook.
Apart from the long distance outreach, we also did some local outreach. This form of outreach mainly focuses on the clients that live nearby or are within walking distance to the office. Weekly counselling sessions were conducted. Although I was not the person who gave them counselling, I did spend some time talking to them and getting to know them each time they stopped by the office for services. In a sense I became more of a friend to them rather than someone who works for the organization. I learned a lot about their strength and perseverance in changing their current situation. Some were taking steps to getting back to school, and finding jobs and finding the strength to uproot themselves from toxic situations. There were others however, who fell into bad former bad habits and had to face the consequences of their actions. This too was extremely difficult to witness. All in all, I spent a balance of my time in the office and out in the various communities and I think this enriched my learning experience.