Play with Us in South Africa

“Play with us,” or “Dlalanathi” in isiZulu, is the name of a community-based organization (CBO) that teaches parents and caregivers to bring simple play techniques, listening, and reflection into the every day care of a child to help both the child and the caregiver cope with experiences of death, loss, and HIV and AIDS. There are many great stories behind Dlalanathi’s work, but one in particular captures the essence of their impact. Liesl Jewitt, one of the organization founders, was studying play therapy and trying to reach children living on the streets to talk about loss and ways of coping. Reaching them meant encouraging them to approach her so one day she showed up with a parrot on her shoulder. Children came to ask about the parrot and then the woman carrying it. They ended up in a conversation about their experiences with loss and coping. Liesl provided ideas and compassion without confrontation or judgment. She brought a sense of play that can easily be missed in issues as serious as the ones children living on the streets must face.

Services like Dlalanthi’s can be provided by CBOs because they’re able to build relationships face to face, investing in children, communities, and families through lasting partnerships. CBOs are well poised to support those recovering from losses because of these relationships.

South Africa has a sophisticated network of more than 50,000 community-based organizations. Access to funds and services is somewhat easier in South Africa than in other African countries, due to an established civil society and social welfare system. CBOs are generally savvy in both their services and their fundraising. The government requirement of corporations to support social services contributes to the availability of funds. In such a context, Firelight needs to keep on its toes to choose the right partners and add value. Firelight staff are in South Africa this February to visit many of our 13 grantee partners and learn about the latest developments in this changing context.

The report that came out of Liesl Jewitt’s experience with the children and the parrot is now widely available.  A Parrot on Your Shoulder: A Guide for People Starting to Work with Orphans and Vulnerable Children, published by the International AIDS Alliance, is a great example of easy, welcoming approaches to get to know and work with children.  Another great resource, Where the Heart Is: Meeting the Psychosocial Needs of Young Children delves into the wider issue of psychosocial support for children coping with loss. Published by the Bernard van Leer Foundation and co-authored by Firelight Advisory Council Members Linda Richter and Geoff Foster, the report shows organizations how to prioritize everyday systems of care—families, schools, and communities--to nurture children and help them to sustain their resiliency.

South Africa remains a place of innovation, sophistication, and thoughtful programming for children and communities. Our grantee partners reach many communities whether operating with a specific focus or with a national agenda.