Understanding Before Judging

Throughout her life Akhona Nkumbi (25) had no idea what love was, she dealt with rejection most of her childhood. She says that only after she joined Salesian Life Choices was she able to heal her wounds and in the process became a better parent.

Akhona heard about Salesian Life Choices from a friend who was attending the organisation’s Family Affairs programme, a programme dedicated to up-skill parents to deliver competent and quality parenting to children despite adverse circumstances.

“I joined the group after my friend told me how happy it was making her. At the time I was unemployed and doing very little with my life. I lived in a shack in my aunt’s backyard and every morning after taking my daughter (8) to school I would go home and look for work. So, when I heard about the workshop I was interested because it gave me something to do. I hoped that it would help me find a job and learn more things about being a better mother. I’m a single parent and I always worry if what I’m doing as a mother is the best thing for my child.”

Family Affairs parental skills workshops are offered to groups of parents over a seven week period. Each week, parents are exposed to an interactive three-hour session where different topics are discussed. Topics include a self-reflection first session – that deals with parents’ childhood, self-worth and nurturing gratitude – to other sessions were children’s needs, temperaments, stages of development and self-esteem are discussed. Parents are also guided on how to communicate and listen to their children, identify risky behaviour and learn more about children’s rights, among other topics. For Akhona, who was raised by her grandmother, the first session of the workshop made her aware of feelings toward her mother that she had been harbouring for years.

“My first session was great, the Family Affairs facilitator, spoke to us about self-reflection – something I knew nothing about. She also encouraged us to share our life stories. I remember looking at a paper with the word mother on it, and being asked what the word meant to us. It was the first time I had thought about the role my mother played in my life. I didn’t know her because I was raised by my grandmother. When I thought about her all the hatred came to me. I found it to be a sad but exciting day because it was the first time I thought that I was not alone and that I was part of something. Everybody shared a part of their lives. I remember when I began speaking I got really emotional and began to cry, but I was told to take my time, and that we were all there for each other.”

“In the end of the first session we were all given a task – to wake up every morning, look at ourselves in the mirror and say “I love you”. This was the first time in my life that I said that to myself. I was amazed by how much better I felt about myself. Today I continue to say it during the morning, afternoon and evening. The best part is that I am sharing my experience with my daughter and encouraging her to love herself.”

As part of the intervention, Akhona received one-on-one psychosocial support from the organisation’s counsellor.

“Before the counselling I would have negative thoughts and I didn’t realise they were controlling my life. Challenges like dealing with my parents, it wasn’t easy to talk about it – I wanted to just forget about it. But the counsellor made me open up about it. He made me realise that the anger towards my mother would affect my life. He made me write down all my emotions, at first I just laughed about it. But when I did it for a few days, I just began to cry. The counsellor told me to burn the paper and throw it away. This really helped me let go. I never thought it would, but it has really helped me change my thoughts from negative to positive.”

Today, Akhona has a better relationship with her mother and father.

“Before I hated them for rejecting me, but now I am more focused on getting to know them. I got the courage to talk to my mom but I don’t want to rush things. I want to know about her childhood first and get to know her better before I ask her why she left me. I just want to understand her story.”

As part of the Family Affairs intervention, parents are also offered one-on-ones with a job search counselor. Aiming at addressing Akhona’s goal of employment, she was invited to meet with the organisation’s job counsellor who assisted her in drawing up her first curriculum vitae (CV).
“I knew about CV’s but I never knew how to get or make one. The counsellor would ask me about my goals, and I told him I wanted to be independent and then we began working on a strategy that would lead to my independence.”

Akhona says that she has never thought about her future as she does today.

“I failed my exams when I was in matric (Grade 12) and for the first time I am determined to write the supplementary exams. This year I am working as a cashier at Checkers and I am focussed on saving money for my matric exams.” Akhona’s present day story is very different to her past one. She has reconciled with her mother after having no contact for years, she has begun teaching her daughter about self-love and practicing daily affirmations with her and she has secured full-time employment.

“I feel like a different person after being part of Family Affairs. I am happier and inspired to turn my family’s life around.”

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