Empilweni: A Place of Healing

A group of African children and a few adults at Empilwenii in South Africa Some of our partners have developed such beautiful models of working with vulnerable children. One unique model comes from Empilweni. Empilweni is an organization in Khayelitsha, an informal settlement of 600,000 people located outside Cape Town, South Africa. Khayelitsha was formed in the early 80’s, during apartheid. It’s often called the largest and fastest-growing township in South Africa.

Empilweni’s name means “Place of Healing” and it truly is a place where children and families can go to heal deep wounds, the kind that are often not visible.

Focusing on mental health, Empilweni helps children to heal from their experiences of abuse, neglect, or loss. While children’s physical needs, such as food or clothing, can be easy to see, emotional needs are often less apparent. Yet, if emotional needs go unaddressed, they can create tremendous obstacles for a child’s development.

They view childhood trauma as a direct assault on the potential of young community members. Research strongly suggests that domestic abuse and community violence have an intergenerational cycle. Those who have witnessed it or were victims as children are more likely to be perpetrators as adults, and engage in delinquent or risky behaviors.  This cycle of violence and denial of children’s rights to a safe environment is curbed through their model of early intervention.

One reason Empilweni is so effective, is that they work with psychologists to train members of the community as counselors. This allows children and families to work with a counselor in their local language in their daily, familiar environment. Throughout the counseling process, the counselor consults with the psychologist and staff on the child’s treatment plan to ensure the best care possible.

Counselors meet one-on-one with children. They also conduct home and school visits and counseling sessions with members of the child’s family. In one counselor’s words, “We facilitate change and healing in all aspects surrounding the presenting problem and need of each child. For example, if a child is referred to us for behavior problems, we track the origins of the presenting problem and the source of domestic violence. We monitor and support the referral and start working with the child when there is some stability in the home.”

Once a child graduates from individual counseling, they are invited into group counseling sessions to reinforce what he or she learned in individual counseling. This allows children to work through their individual problems with peers in similar circumstances.

Empilweni leaves “the door half open to come back” should any clients need to consult with their counselors in the future. Special support groups are open to children who were sexually abused, children who are HIV+, and for single mothers. Ongoing parenting skills workshops help community members to improve relationships at home. They provide an essential ongoing service for children who would otherwise fall through the cracks of crisis intervention facilities and basic health care organizations.


Empilweni is part of Fund: Child Safety. Their approach to helping children recover from abuse relies on proven techniques and their commitment to community.  Last year they reached 519 children with Firelight funds. This year, while continuing to directly serve children, they are working on reviving the Child Protection Forum to help local organizations better coordinate the care they provide to vulnerable children.

Support Empilweni in Fund: Child Safety and help children in Khayelitsha recover from abuse through the care, support, and expertise of their own community.