It was a first for Cape Town as parents and caregivers from Ocean View and Masiphumelele graduated from the Families Matter Programme, an innovative project which aims to reduce sexual risk by improving the communication between adults and children.
Parents, caregivers and children excitedly filed into the Open Door in Ocean View, dressed in their best as organisers sorted the graduation certificates, gifts and busily got the refreshments ready.
“This is our first ‘stab’, if I can put it that way, at trying to do community-based intervention,” said a smiling Dumisane Mthembu, district manager of the Johannesburg-based Aurum Institute, a public-benefit organisation involved with primary health care and research, particularly related to HIV/Aids, at the graduation ceremony on Thursday July 14 for seven Ocean View and 13 Masiphumelele women.
The Families Matter Programme (FMP) is an evidence-based programme, based on research done in the USA and Kenya and adapted for South Africa. It was developed by Soul City and facilitated by Aurum, in partnership with the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Valley Development Project (which runs Open Door).
“There was a gap in community education relating to orphans and vulnerable children,” said Mr Mthembu.
“We identified the guardians and parents themselves as needing the capacitating, affording the parents the necessary skills to deal with whatever is happening, with the pressures, with the changes in how the world is.
“This is the first step in Cape Town for us and we are extremely delighted in the way this has gone,” he said.
The programme aims to equip caregivers of pre-adolescents – nine- to 12-year-olds – with the necessary skills and knowledge to guide the children through adolescence with the goals of reducing teenage pregnancy, HIV infection rates and anti-social behaviour among teenagers by fostering healthy relationships between parents or caregivers and children.
With great gusto the participants sang their theme song, bouncy and clapping with larger than life gestures illustrating how to abstain and protect.
“Everybody loves to be healthy – that’s what we are celebrating,” said FMP facilitator Nombasa Hlekani after leading the graduates and their supporters in song.
She said that because, in South Africa, sexual activity started young, the programme had been adapted to target parents and caregivers of the nine – to 12-year-olds.
The six-week programme enabled the adults to get to know themselves and know what their role was in their children’s lives.
She was firm in her assertion that the parents had to lead the children through life, not the other way round.
“Just as we ensure young children are not burnt by a heater, now we help the child not to stumble with peer pressure, with sexual activity.”
She said traditions and cultures had to change.
“We were taught don’t speak to elders about sex. We were taught it was disrespectful to make eye contact. We are trying to break those barriers.”
She said parents needed to speak to their children. “Normally, parents would not ask their children, ‘Did you have a good day?’ They would come home from work and get on with the cleaning and making supper. They wouldn’t need to ask, because they would believe children had a good and a bad day,” she said to much laughter.
Parents now had to learn how to become their children’s confidant, someone the children would confide in and listen to.
“Don’t rely on teachers at school. You are the best teacher. You know what your values are,” she said.
She reminded the participants to make time to speak to the children in the hope that they would learn their values from their mothers or caregivers.
“It doesn’t work without the right foundations, not speaking to the child, as we were raised,” she said, to murmurs of agreement. “Parents have to be there for the child and have great communication.”
Towards the end of the six-week course, children were included for the adults to practise in various role-playing situations.
“I know most of you were surprised to find the kids were being pressured to do things they didn’t like,” she said.
“You have been given a pencil,” commented Rosaline Botha, area manager for Aurum’s health programme unit. “Sometimes it gets blunt. Speak to each other and network.
“The communication skills you have been given are to give you your power back. Parents must lead the children.”
“Aurum is here to stay,” said Mr Mthembu. “This is just a first step. The next wave will be a better wave going forward. Congratulations. I hope it spreads.”