They “drink from a fire hose of human misery,” one academic recently said of the job social workers do … In this series of conversations, Kerkbode spotlights the work of individual social workers in order to tell a broader story of the church at work in South Africa.
In rural Zimbabwe, where Takudzwa Madhina grew up, he saw too much.
“Service delivery and social worker services were non-existent,” he explains during a recent Zoom interview with Kerkbode. “There are things which I saw with my own eyes that were never termed abuse in a rural setting, but I was only a child … So I said, the only way I can deal with it is to get into this kind of profession where I can influence legislation … I (now) know the reporting channels,” says Madhina.
Madhina ended up completing a bachelor’s degree in social work at the University of Pretoria and now has nine years of experience in the field. He also completed a postgraduate degree in public health.
As social worker at CMR Gauteng East, Madhina is part of a large team focusing on “family preservation” and child protection. This includes protecting children from neglect and abuse, and the placement with foster and adoptive parents.
“We do more than just the removal of children, it is actually the last resort,” Madhina explains and talks about the CMR Child Protection Project, a campaign that is aimed at demystifying the work the organisation does by breaking it down into seven steps … Another aspect of the campaign is to put a price tag to each step, presumably in the hope that transparency will encourage generosity among donors, who are responsible for roughly 35% of the budget – with the state footing the complement, according to Henda van der Merwe, director of CMR Gauteng East.
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Children’s Fund Steps
Madhina (35) started at CMR Gauteng East in January 2022 and is quick to point out that the only criteria for help is the client’s level of vulnerability. “When we do our intake, we don’t look at where you are coming from … we look at the person in front of us. How can we preserve the family, whatever the needs of the family are,” he explains.
CMR Gauteng East is rooted in the theology and institutional support of the Dutch Reformed Church. The acronym stands for Christelik- Maatskaplike Raad and the organisation is widely known by the Afrikaans abbreviation even to non-Afrikaans speakers such as Madhina. It is a non-profit Christian organisation with 14 consulting rooms in the eastern suburbs of Gauteng and in the Johannesburg area. From his sparse office in Faerie Glen, Pretoria, Madhina points out that the industry is female dominated. “I am one of the very few men … The general perception is that males are not that compassionate. But here is one of the men out there who is as compassionate as female workers.”
As one of three social workers in the Faerie Glen office, Madhina tries to give his interviewer a sense of how vast the problem is that CMR and similar NGOs are trying to “fix”. “I can have plus minus hundred and fifty intakes in a year,” he says and hastens to add that all the cases differ. “There will be those cases that are intense and end up in the high court … but some cases may be resolved in a couple of months.”
Who helps the helpers?
So-called “compassion fatigue” comes with the territory in a job like this. “Much of what I’ve learned about sustainable empathy comes from spending time with health care professionals,” writes Jamil Zaki in a recent Harvard Business Review article entitled “How to sustain your empathy in difficult times”. “Especially in emergency and critical-care settings, physicians, nurses and social workers encounter a stream of people who are having the worst days of their lives. These workers drink from a fire hose of human misery, go home to care for their own families, and then return to do it all over again,” Zaki, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University, writes in an article that outlines how managers can lead with empathy while “maintaining their equilibrium.”
Madhina concedes this line of work can take an emotional toll. “We do get debriefing … We were taught in varsity to have controlled emotional involvement. But you are still a human being.”
His hope for this election year is greater understanding of the cost involved in child protection. “From my perspective, we need to move from welfare to preservation services”.
MORE ABOUT CMR GAUTENG-EAST
“We believe we are making a positive difference in the lives of families since 1982,” says Lizette Albasini, Fundraising & Marketing: CMR Gauteng East.
“Our vision is to render a well-rounded social work service to all communities in order to enable them to be socially, emotionally and economically stable. We work in the eastern suburbs of Pretoria, Bronkhorstpruit, Cullinan and Midrand.
We focus on protection of one of the most vulnerable groups in our country, namely babies (several abandoned), children and the elderly.
- One out of three children goes to bed hungry every night.
- The last statistics in 2021 reveal that 200 000 learners dropped out of school.
- One out of five children is a victim of child abuse in South Africa.
- Between April and June in 2022, 243 children were killed (Unicef 2022).
“Our child protection services relate with these terrifying and shocking statistics,” Albasini says.
The initiatives that we implemented during the past 12 months were:
- CMR Children’s Fund with aim to raise funds for assessments and therapy of traumatised children and families.
- Child Protection Projects (29 May – 5 June) in many of our areas with aim to equip children with life skills.
- Participated with companies on Mandela Day.
- Holiday projects to keep children safe.
- Youth Month with focus on awareness and prevention of drug abuse.
CMR GAUTENG-EAST is a registered Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) as well as a PBO (individuals and companies can claim tax deductions for donations made).
For more, visit www.cmroos.co.za or social media at:
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