Author: Dr. Barbara Louw, the CEO of Inter Trauma Nexus
The COVID-19 pandemic caught the whole world off guard. In reality there was no worldwide defence plan of action to deal with a bio-tragedy and the consequences. Dealing with the risks, the infection and deaths forced governments to manage a global pandemic without a road map.
Besides being a citizen of South Africa, I have been involved with providing victim support services since 1985. In 1998 Inter Trauma Nexus (ITN) was registered and aligned with the South African Crime Prevention Strategy’s Victim Empowerment Programme. For the next 12 years the management team of ITN was involved in police station based victim support and training for community members to offer support to victims. This programme was very successful, but financial challenges were rife. In 2005 we had to re-evaluate the role this ministry played in the community.
Despite the challenges of a changing season in the ministry the vision remained the same, to help people to put trauma behind them and to find hope. It is possible to grow from traumatic experiences to wellness through wholeness. We specialize in victim support, trauma and crisis management, specialised pastoral counselling, coaching and mentoring. This is achieved by offering topic specific training, support groups and a wide range of services to schools, churches and other organisations.
Challenges of victims and supporters in SA
The challenges victims and supporters face, stems from the historic background, as well as the South Africa economic and governmental realities. In this country we have communities where there is a mixture of first and third world standards of living.
Besides the history of social injustice, in the past decade the crime, corruption and increasing poverty was rife. Over the years of dealing with the HIV AIDS pandemic, means that the health system was suffering and not equip to deal with any health scare such as COVID-19.
At first the news of COVID-19 was taken rather lightly, because it was seen as an illness in China. It was described in the same terms as the SARS viral outbreak.
Awareness of COVID-19
Illiteracy and ignorance hampered the efforts to educate the population about the outbreak and the pandemic. The concept of a health pandemic is actually foreign in the worldview of many people. Their collective worldview have no perception of a viral outbreak and the practice of social distancing is unthinkable.
Our first step to raise awareness of the basic information of handling the Corona virus’ information was to use an animated video. In the video we used Stevie, the hedgehog, our stop bullying mascot. The video was published on all the available social media platforms and the public reaction was positive.
The South African government announced that the COVID-19 pandemic was reaching serious levels and the country will be in a three week lockdown from 27 March 2020. We were going into the most serious time of our lives and we did not know what was meant with the announcement of isolation and not being able to go to work or to travel. Anxiety begin building in the communities where people understood the announcement. In other communities people were oblivious of what was going on. They kept on going about their daily lives as usual.
The management team of Inter Trauma Nexus decided that the best way for us to provide support to people would be via our online workshop platform. At this stage everyone in the community can be seen as vulnerable community members who need assistance. Although we had a draft frame work for the workshop we decided to offer support and information as the challenges of the pandemic unfolded.
In the face of the unemployment, retrenchments and further economic hardship we also decided to make the online workshops available free of charge. This is a bold step, because there is no funding or sponsorship.
The online workshops started on 26 March 2020, the day before the national lockdown. The purpose was to encourage, inform and assist participants with the most accurate and situation appropriate information. Sessions were posted every day and took participants about 30 minutes to complete. Some sessions had practical homework in the form of fun exercises, reflections or working on a budget.
The extension of the lockdown
The workshop ran successfully, but the lockdown was extended indefinitely. Anxiety, anger and disillusionment grew exponentially. The financial aid that was offered by government is not accessible for everyone and fake news created disharmony on new levels.
In the online workshop we addressed issues like personal strengths that help you to cope; when to get professional help; how to get access to professional services; accessing the available financial aid offered by various institutions; staying spiritually rooted and helping other people.
Now the Support during the COVIC-19 disaster is a 52-day online workshop that will remain available free of charge for any members of the community. Participants receive a downloadable certificate of participation on the date of completion of the workshop.
As the lockdown continues we are very concerned about the increase in gender based violence, because the number of reported domestic violence cases are at an all-time high. At the same time we do not know how severe the prevalence of child abuse is, because the lockdown limits children’s access to help from educators and child care workers.
Supporters and counsellors
At this stage, there are a lot of support and counselling services available for vulnerable people, such as victims and patients. However, the care givers, victim supporters, medical personal, employee assistance practitioners and counsellors are carrying the heavy burdens of care for people.
The needs of the supporters and counsellors made it necessary to offer online counselling and supervision services. In offering these support services to the professionals they demand assurance of confidentiality, like never before. These professionals are fearful of stigmatisation and rejection in their different communities.
After 52 days
As the online workshop package is set and the first participants finished the outcomes that we envisaged were reached successfully. An additional success point is the fact that the current participants are inviting colleagues and friend to also join.
Although the online workshop offering is complete, the road forward is not clear yet. In the light of the responsibility of duty of care the facilitators will continue to assist workshop participants and vulnerable community by keeping these members informed and encouraged via online articles and daily motivational newsletters.
We can only hope and pray that society will recover from this pandemic with greater care and kindness for each other.