Empowering communities and the vulnerable

23 October 2013 | Beatrice Watermeyer | Opinion

LifeLine Pietermaritzburg was established in February 1972, and it has provided 24-hour telephone counselling and support services through its crisis line ever since.

The dedicated LifeLine Pietermaritzburg community ambassadors

The LifeLine centre serves communities around the Umgungundlovu District in KwaZulu-Natal, and in recent times has expanded its services to include the areas of Sisonke Majuba and Uthukela. The prime aim of a LifeLine centre is to provide emotional wellness to surrounding communities through individual counselling and community group interventions. Over the past decade the centre has put considerable effort into the prevention of problems, developing life skills programmes and intensifying awareness of rape, domestic violence, HIV, child abuse, conflict management and other issues.

In addition, the centre has broadened its range of activities to include the local Rape Crisis Centre, providing survivors with specialist care, trauma debriefing for victims who have been involved in a variety of violent situations such as robberies, common assault and domestic violence, and facilitating the creation of an HIV/AIDS information database in partnership with the local municipality. The centre is currently involved in a large pre-risk HIV counselling and testing project in 14 senior schools in the peri-urban areas of Pietermaritzburg.

In 2011, LifeLine Pietermaritzburg approached the 1st for Women Trust, managed by Tshikululu Social Investments NPC, to support the scaling up of a Rape Crisis Intervention in the remote area of Bergville, Uthukela District in KwaZulu-Natal. As the 1st for Women Trust has a primary focus on gender-based violence (GBV), it was agreed to provide the seed funding.

The Bergville Rape Crisis Intervention, which is carried out through two counsellors at Bergville’s District Hospital – Emmaus – and through 18 community ambassadors, has three objectives:

  • To provide counselling and ongoing emotional support to rape survivors
  • To engage with the community and schools through facilitated workshops aimed at raising awareness on issues around GBV
  • To provide the community with accurate and appropriate knowledge about the legal framework protecting women and children, and how to access it

Many of the community ambassadors have themselves been victims of gender-based violence and received support and counselling from the centre, and who have been trained and empowered. Reliable support over the past three years from the 1st for Women Trust into the Bergville Rape Crisis Intervention has allowed this project to make the important strides needed, and has had an impact in the Bergville area.

The local police and authorities have noted an increase in the reporting of rape and other abuses in communities, and this has been attributed to intervention measures by the project. The number of victims reporting abuse has gone from two per month in the first year of the project to almost 20 per month by the end of 2012.

These victims are able to access care, support and advice. In addition, through community and schools dialogues, the community learns about the different aspects of GBV; it is thus becoming equipped in how to seek help, which ultimately leads to prevention of GBV. As one community ambassador points out, the 1st for Women-funded Bergville Rape Crisis Intervention is “ultimately empowering the community”.

Of course, the obstacles that the LifeLine centre faces in Bergville – and in the work LifeLine does elsewhere nationally – remain, but visiting this area and the women who devote their lives to this project is truly inspiring and we commend LifeLine for the tireless work that it does.