Over four days last week in Johannesburg, South Africa, 14 community-based organisations gathered to kick off the third year of the SLF Mentorship Initiative- a peer-led programme (supported by dedicated funds from an external donor) designed to match up two organisations for a minimum of one-year to exchange lessons learned, test out innovative ideas, and work together to strengthen their transformative grassroots work. These organisations deliver home-based care, nutrition programmes, psychosocial counselling, play and music therapy, and countless other services and supports to whole communities struggling with HIV and AIDS.
The lodge in Johannesburg provided a welcome, albeit brief, change from the urgent work they do every day. Even after the rigorous formal agenda of the Roundtable had ended, the peaceful surroundings and evening light helped to ground their reflections, build trust, share expectations, and further explore practical solutions to deeply complex issues. The importance of building trust and maintaining open communication were key themes to emerge from the Roundtable.
The participants came from organisations that have been mentoring one another for the past year, and new organisations just beginning their mentoring relationships. This gathering facilitated a kind of “mentorship within mentorship”, as the partner organisations who already had experience with mentorship spoke candidly and with great enthusiasm about what worked, what they would do differently and what surprised them along the way. The new organisations came ready with their hopes and expectations and left with a clear plan of action, supported by the guidance and passion of those more experienced.
Throughout the Roundtable, partners from Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe shared the meaningful impact of their year-long peer exchanges. One poignant example was the rich partnership between the Music Therapy Community Clinic (MTCC) and dlalanathi (both based in South Africa). They both work with children and decided to focus on teaching each other the techniques of their particular arts-based practice in order to expand the forms of therapy they bring to their work. dlalanathi has been focused on art and play therapy and the staff are self-confessed “non-musicians”, with some hesitation about their ability to produce anything vaguely musical. However, over time and with open exchange, commitment and enthusiasm, dlalanathi learned to strengthen their art and play therapy through music as a tool for the expression of grief, fear and anger. They also use music as a powerful tool for building and interpreting group dynamics among children.
MTCC has now begun to incorporate a wider element of play in their musical workshops with vulnerable children and youth. dlalanathi shared with MTCC how they “leave skills behind” by embedding lasting skills with both children and caregivers so that they can continue to draw on and share the benefits of their creative sessions long after the work has ended. MTCC now integrates this approach into everything they do.
The ultimate goal of the mentorship programme is to establish a flexible process in order to harness the capacity and talent powering the grassroots response to AIDS in Africa and leverage it to strengthen community-based responses across the continent. Although these two organisations differed in their approach, they found common ground by forging a deep friendship that identified commonalities, taking what is relevant and transferable from their differences. As Robyn, from dlalanathi remarked, “When you share the same values, speak the same language and have a similar foundation, you walk on the same ground from the same place, even if you do things very differently.”
The power of mentorship and music was brought to life within the Roundtable when MTCC led all of us through a rousing song-writing exercise. One by one, each person was invited to add a beat to an evolving song either by singing, snapping their fingers, tapping their toes or even finger-drumming on a tea cup. The results were beautiful and we were all more musical than we realized!
“On its own, my contribution sounded boring or disorganised, but as part of the whole, it fit and contributed to a lovely song. As your turn approaches, you don’t know what to do but when you listen to others you begin to add what fits. Someone needs to start the rhythm, but then everyone is equal in their contribution.”
The music was a metaphor for our work. Everyone contributed, listened, and played a role. It was the perfect ground work for lasting friendship and deep learning.
Blog entry by Felicity Heyworth, Communications Officer