Supporting children with disabilities can be a sensitive topic. A lot of stigma remains around disability and parents are often scared to share too much about their experience or talk about the situation.
Our Inclusion team have recognised the role counselling plays in supporting parents and helping them ‘open up’ about their experience with having a child with a disability. In many cases there are a multitude of socio-economic factors involved and in some instance’s cases of trauma and/or abuse. As we support these children in their learning and development, we have realised the importance of ‘healing’ that comes with talking and sharing.
Last year we introduced ‘Sinezwi’ which translates from isiZulu as ‘We have a voice’. The focus of Sinezwi is not just about breaking the stigma around disability but also about building advocacy amongst parents so that they too become a voice for the rights of disability.
At the Rural Health conference last year one of the parents we support through home-based inclusion, Wendy Sikobi, mother to Sthelo Sikobi, stood up and shared her story with about 40 people in a small breakaway session. The audience were significantly moved by her story as she shared her fears, what she has had to overcome as well as the love she has for her son.
Through the support from external resources, our management team have participated in a number of counselling support sessions and developed the skills involved in offering counselling support. This has significantly supported the work we do in homes and provides, in particular our Non-Centre Based (NCB) team, with the necessary tools to help parents open up. So far this year our NCB team have facilitated 37 one-on-one counselling sessions.
Inclusion Coordinator, Mpume Somana reflects on some of the ways counselling supports the healing process.
“When I give parents opportunity to share their story it is clear that there is often a lot of healing that still needs to happen. The first time I talk with parents either one-on-one or in a group there is often a lot of crying. Sharing about the challenges they face and the burdens starts the healing process for them. When parents talk, they can express how they feel and share these emotions.
Some parents are scared to share at first, but if one brave parent talks then others can share. It helps if there is someone who stands up and shares their story first. For a lot of parents they are afraid when taking their children to town or into the community, they are scared for being judged about what happened to their child. Its sometimes helps them to realise that they are not alone in this.
I think people are learning more about disability in the community. If parents talk more about their experiences, then it helps the community understand their situation.
Listening, paraphrasing and being available are some of the skills that support the counselling process and which we have learnt about through counselling workshops at management training. The training sessions have helped me understand the role the environment plays in counselling and how responsive listening and open-ended questions can prompt deeper conversation. I am able to help parents explore the problem and help them discover what they need to do rather than just telling them what to do.”
As the year continues and the nationwide lockdown is lifted we look forward to the counselling support to grow and with it more stories which are shared within the wider community.