From the initial contact, to follow up visits and counselling, the GRIP team is phenomenal
We have all, at some point or another, dreamed of changing the world…or at the very least doing something good for our community in the hopes of making it a better place. These daydreams paint us the hero; they are generally fun, easy to achieve goals, and they end with a medal and a pat on the back.
Working in non-profit, however, is anything but an idealistic daydream. It’s emotionally taxing and it can be difficult to draw the line between work and life. This month, in honour of the Gender-Based Violence struggle that women (and men) throughout South Africa face on a daily basis, I’ve decided to write about an organisation that helped shape my thoughts and the trajectory of my career.
I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I’d work in an organisation that goes places that most of us would rather not think of. But, fresh out of university and looking for a challenging job, I was presented with the opportunity to work at the Greater Rape Intervention Programme in Nelspruit.
I had hopes that once I had finished my studies, I would simply walk into a job as a journalist (haha the glorious naivety of a graduate). Instead, at the age of 22, I was told of a position opening and I was keen to be involved in that “bigger than me, change the world” kind of job. If I knew then, what I know now, I would have taken on a different attitude. And, in all honesty, if I were to step into that role now, I’d probably be better at it.
I was asked to come in to learn more about the position and about the organisation. I, this timid, quiet person, had no idea what to expect. I was clouded with helping the world syndrome.
“I went in at 8 am and ran out at 1 pm.”
On that trial run, not my actual run but the first morning spent at the organisation, I held the hand of a mentally handicapped woman who had been raped by two men while on her way to the shops. I sat with her while she cried, my mind racing, thinking “I can’t do this”. By 1 pm, I said my goodbyes and in all honesty, I didn’t think I’d come back. It was all too much and it was a harsh introduction to a world I didn’t think I could handle.
But I did go back. I did get the position. And for the next two years, I worked in an organisation that faces one of society’s toughest issues head-on. I helped the CEO organise her day, and by the time I entered my second year, I was writing proposals to bring in donations from overseas.
GRIP’s team don’t get near enough praise or support although they bring a guiding light when a person is experiencing one of their darkest moments. The work they do on a daily basis is emotionally overwhelming and their team of counsellors often need counselling themselves, to relieve their minds from the trauma they have to see. But they are dedicated and don’t waver for a moment; fighting all the way.
Our media doesn’t cover half of what is actually happening out there. And sadly, our communities are way too complacent in either accepting that rape and gender-based violence as simply a part of our lives (because we have allowed it to become normalised) or they are more than happy to pretend it doesn’t happen, or at least that it won’t happen to them and those they love.
But the honest, heart-wrenching truth is that rape and gender-based violence knows no race, age or gender. It knows no economic status or social standing. It doesn’t care if you are a CEO or a street sweeper. It can happen to anyone at any time.
“The police recorded a total of 39,828 rapes in 2016/17, down from 41,503 in 2015/16. An average of 109.1 rapes were recorded each day.” – Africa Check
While the statistics show a decrease in cases, think about the numbers in a different way. Each one of those 109.1 cases reported each day is a person whose life has been forever changed and who might carry physical scars alongside the mental ones for the rest of their lives. Also, keep in mind that these are just REPORTED cases. Many don’t report cases out of fear of victimisation or a lack of faith in the justice system.
One of the first things you learn when working at GRIP is that those affected by rape or domestic violence are never referred to as victims. This definition is disempowering and doesn’t help with the recovery process. Instead, they are called Survivors. They have survived the worst moment of their lives and they are pushing forward. They are stronger than they feel at this moment, and the counsellor plays an important role in making them realise that.
GRIP offers a number of services, with a holistic approach that starts with prevention and continues into intervention.
With care rooms at hospitals and police stations, Survivors can be quickly helped. Prevention comes in the form of outreach to schools and other places, to raise awareness about this issue. The organisation also has a mobile clinic that visits various locations, to offer free HIV testing and HIV counselling.
Survivors whose cases reach court can attend sessions in the courts. This better prepares them for the legal proceedings. These same volunteers who work in the courts with Survivors also assist some prosecutors with their cases.
How can you help?
There are many ways to assist GRIP. Firstly, you can donate money to the cause, even the smallest amount can make a great difference. GRIP survives on donations, and every bit is used to keep the organisation up and running.
Secondly, you can donate items to be used in care packs. Each survivor who comes to the organisation for assistance is given a care pack. A toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, a facecloth, a pair of panties and sanitary pads are included in the packs, along with any other donated toiletries. Most times Survivors have not washed before seeking assistance, and these small packs help restore some normality and dignity.
GRIP also accepts old clothing and other donations. Before you throw something away, pop them an email or give them a call to find out if your unwanted goods could be put to better use. Knitted teddy bears are also welcomed and have become something of a mascot for the organisation. The teddy bears provide some comfort to Survivors.
Working at GRIP helped to shape me into who I am today and it opened my eyes to the tragic events that we most times never hear about. And it is up to us to ensure that they are able to continue providing their strength when those they work with feel hopeless, the fighting spirit when it feels like the battle is being lost, and the shoulders to cry on when the world feels like a colder, darker place than yesterday.