Briefly tell us about the NGO you established in Swaziland, the Family Strengthening Programme you developed for SOS and the asset-based, citizen-led development training programme you are currently running.
I started studying for a BA (Social Work) degree at Witwatersrand University after completing my A Levels at Waterford (1981). Before completing my degree, I met up with and married James Ward (WK 1977-78), and moved to Swaziland in 1985. I continued my degree studies through UNISA and had to complete a practical community development project. I was introduced to the community of Mafucula in the lowveld near to where we lived, situated behind the Mananga Mountain. This community had been displaced during the establishment of Simunye Sugar Estate, and the people felt abandoned and neglected.
After completing my one-year practical project (assisting the women to knit and make candles to earn a small income), I realized that there was so much more that could still be done to assist this community, and decided to try and continue working there. The Vulamehlo Development Programme was established with international funding to assist members of the Mafucula community in starting small businesses in an enterprise centre (including Micro-MBA business training), two pre-schools, several borehole and pump construction projects, vegetable gardens, a fence-making project, and capacity-building training of the rural health motivators.
I ended up working in Mafucula for 12 years! By the time I left, there was a functioning development committee that was responsible for managing all the projects, and many residents had set up small businesses through the revolving loan scheme (with funding from King Mswati III’s Enterprise Fund), and successfully repaid their loans. This loan scheme had a 98% success rate. These small businesses included a shop, maize grinding mills, a furniture workshop, a hardware store, chicken projects, sewing projects and a small butchery.
This 12-year period of working at a grassroots level gave me invaluable experience in working with a community from the ground up – I started with a budget of R136/month from the local Anglican Church! From the beginning my focus was on learning to work with whatever resources were already available in the community. I also felt that it was not my place to tell people what they wanted or needed, or how to achieve their goals for development – only they knew this. My approach was respectful and gentle, listening to them first and being guided by them.
For example, when we started the fence-making project, we needed a storeroom for the equipment. Having no funds for building materials, we made a small room out of branches, stones, wire-mesh and beer cans! It is still standing today – and is now a salon and shoe repair shop!
When we moved as a family to South Africa in 1998, I worked briefly for Ziphakamise, a Christian NGO in Port Shepstone – there I assisted in the training centre and served on the management committee as a Fundraiser. I also worked for Oxfam GB in Pietermaritzburg, before joining SOS Children’s Villages, first as a Fundraiser, then as Family Strengthening Programme (FSP) Coordinator.
The Family Strengthening Programme Coordinator’s post involved establishing community-based initiatives aimed at strengthening families of orphaned and vulnerable children affected and/or infected by HIV & AIDS. I worked successfully with a team of people, from within the community and from local government and business, to set up a community centre in which various different services were offered (home affairs, social work, HIV counselling, pre-school, sewing, mushroom growing and hydroponic gardening). The Centre became a key meeting place for community members to discuss various community issues.
Once I moved to Johannesburg in 2007, I began consulting in the NGO sector. I was commissioned by SOS Children’s Villages International to write their training toolkit for the Family Strengthening Programme, and to train some of their key FSP staff in the toolkit. Much of the focus in the FSP toolkit was on identifying the assets within a community, enabling community members to use what is around them.
In 2012 I was delighted to be selected to participate in the first accredited Asset-Based Citizen Driven (ABCD) Training of Trainers course offered in Johannesburg by Coady Institute of Canada and GIBS (Gordon Institute of Business Science). This 2-week training event equipped me with the tools to train this approach in the NGO sector – and felt like I was “coming full circle” in my career and skill-set.
The ABCD (Asset-based Citizen-driven) approach focuses on identifying the assets and inherent strengths within a community, to enable citizen-driven development to take place from the inside out. Although not a new concept (the idea of assets and citizens taking action for themselves is as old as civilization itself), the principles and approach have been developed into a user-friendly “toolkit” in recent years by Coady Institute (Canada) and the ABCD Institute (USA).
Participative methods are used in this toolkit – mapping of individual, group and community assets – and training sessions are fun and interactive.
What role did Waterford play in your career path choice?
I was always active in the community services programme at Waterford. I loved Wednesday afternoons when I could go to the Mbabane Government Hospital and play with the Ward 8 children there. In our U6th year, a group in our class organised the first 24-hour sponsored run – an event that has become part of the annual WK calendar, I believe! At the year-end prize-giving in 1981 I received the Community Services Award.
Do you have any fond memories of Waterford? Please share.
Being at Waterford and living in the new South Africa before it became a reality was a vital part of who I am today. My home environment was similar (born on a mission station, lived some years on a multi-racial theological seminary campus), so it was only natural that my parents chose to send me and my brother, Charles Bill and sister, Denise Bill Janisch to Waterford. We learnt from a young age to express ourselves and not fear trying to be who we were meant to become.
What advice would you have for aspiring students to be involved in social and Community development?
Choose to be positive yourself and to always look for the positive in others – the assets in people, in groups and in communities. If you can honour the assets and potential in another person/community, you will unleash energy and action beyond your dreams. And remember, if you are working in a community other than your own, it is THEIR space, THEIR life, THEIR dreams – you cannot dictate a thing to them, you can only count yourself privileged to be allowed to share in THEIR process. Be respectful, be tentative and acknowledge the other as the “expert in his/her own community”.