By Mikhulu Trust Communications
“Although the Mikhulu Trust book-sharing is just a drop in the ocean with the numbers we reach, it’s actually a big thing that can change a lot as far as the community is concerned. Here, we talk about a culture that is instilled in our mind – the manner in which we are brought up – and we did not see anything wrong with it until we came across the Mikhulu Trust.”
These are the words of Mr Bongi Mgquba, facilitator at the Men’s Fellowship in Kraaifontein, a faith-based organisation which runs under the banner of the Presbyterian Church. While the Men’s Fellowship is a national body, each church has its own group and each has a common goal: to promote outreach to all, with a particular focus on men. When the opportunity to become a part of Mikhulu’s book-sharing course arose, Men’s Fellowship in Kraaifontein jumped at the chance.
The importance of a father’s presence
Millions of children in South Africa are growing up without a father in the home. Some may have a relationship with their dads that is somewhat positive, but many don’t have a deep relationship with their fathers at all due to societal practices that have become the norm in many instances.
Facilitator, Bongi, a father himself to children in their late teens, told us: “Fathers are always reserved – you will not find them in these workshops which is why Mikhulu Trust is zooming in on the men. The fathers are the ones who are always dragging their feet to come out but, in the meantime, they are the main culprits and perpetrators of the violence.”
A realisation for deeper involvement
The first step for the Men’s Fellowship group was to realise that the involvement of fathers is paramount to their children’s upbringing, however, culturally, it has been the norm to leave most of the hands-on parenting to the women in the household. Bongi says “When it comes to us – people of colour – we are not always close parents to our children. We don’t play an important role in the upbringing of our kids; it’s normally left to the mothers. We didn’t realise how much the old times have changed compared to now. Some of us continue to distance ourselves as fathers, knowing the mother will take care of the kids. We have been making things difficult for our children. We have to change our manner of doing things which were part of the problem.”
Changing men through book-sharing
When asked whether the book-sharing course is making men “softer”, Bongi replied with a resounding “yes!” and explained that in the African culture, times are changing and book-sharing promotes the involvement of fathers in the upbringing of their children. “Fathers realise they cannot keep doing things in the same way they were doing things. We need to change our attitudes and our behaviours,” says Bongi.
Changing cultural trends
Through the book-sharing training, fathers have reportedly become more attuned to their own behaviour towards their children, They have also become more aware of the necessity to be involved in their children’s lives and the fact that they are sending their children messages that can potentially lead towards future violent behaviour. “We learned at the book-sharing training to never spank your kids and to not talk to them with a particular attitude,” says Bongi. ”You can’t say you don’t spank your child but you still shout at your child because it’s really the same thing. When you are spanking your child each time they mess up, what you are saying to them is that every conflict in the world is resolved by violence. Continue speaking to them calmly, otherwise, we’re teaching them that differences are solved by violence. That is what this project has taught us.”
A means of creating calm in the chaos
Bongi tells us: “What we are saying to parents about the book-sharing is to take 10 minutes every day with your kids and take them through the book. Some fathers have said that book-sharing has changed their child’s attitude but some have also said it has changed their behaviour towards their kids because they are no longer dealing with them in the way they were. After two weeks even, I’ve heard fathers who have told me that book-sharing has made them do things differently in their house,” says Bongi.
An understanding of wordless books
The fact that the Mikhulu books are without words, makes them accessible to all, as those attending the books-sharing course with the Men’s Fellowship speak a variety of languages as their home tongue, including English, Sotho, Zulu, isiXhosa and Afrikaans. The wordless books are accessible to all those using them.
Breaking cycles of violence
By building the capacity of community-based organisations like the Men’s Fellowship to deliver the book-sharing programme, the Mikhulu Trust aims to reduce violence against children, reduce child-risk factors for later violence and improve child-cognitive outcomes.
On a positive note, Bongi ends by saying: “The [book-sharing] project does make a dent; it makes a difference in the lives of the fathers we come across. The project is a good project indeed”