Tuesday, December 4, 2012

349 days of inaction and the currency of protecting children

From the beginning of recorded history it has been recognised that money has enormous power. From the biblical
1 Timothy 6:10 - For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
To more modern reflections when Mark Twain rethought the Biblical and said
The lack of money is the root of all evil.
Culminating in interesting philosophically satirical comments from authors such as Ayn Rand, who reworked the biblical again to read
So you think that money is the root of all evil. Have you ever asked what is the root of all money?
From these, and the passage of daily life what we do know is that there is a sad truth in the phrase “money makes the world go round”…or not.
The Non-Profit Sector has always attempted to mitigate against the multitude of vulnerabilities that face humanity on a global level. Poverty has always been central to this. What is it about poverty that contributes so significantly to vulnerability? It is access to resources. Those resources relate directly to the realisation of the indelible rights that are enshrined in our constitution. So has our Constitution now become class based and our human rights culture, so hard fought for, now become a luxury that comes with a price tag?
There has been a great deal of media coverage of the global financial crisis, interspersed with overarching controversy, such as the now infamously vandalised “spear painting”. So what is the connection? The connection is that the painting controversy happened during a time where the country prides itself on a focus on children during Child Protection Week, in the face of the ever nearing collapse of the Child Protection System as a whole. Why is this related to the global financial crisis and recession?
The current recession could be over by the year's end, but its impact on children will continue through next year and may virtually erase decades of improvements in American children's well-being, according to a new report by the Foundation for Child Development.[i]   
If this is the case in developed countries what is the situation for our developing country? Quite frankly it is dire. The experience of some children is that their rights, which should be granted immediately and unconditionally, are not even being progressively recognised but in fact are regressing in certain areas. What has led to this is a complex interplay of factors from the global financial crisis to an improved view of South Africa within the BRICS nations, to erratic and unintelligible National Lotteries Distribution policies, to a change in direction in Socio-Economic Development funding from corporates and a totally inadequate budget form the Department of Social Development and other relevant Departments to meet their positive child rights mandate.
So where does the non-profit sector find itself? It finds itself taking on the pathologies of the clients it is trying to uplift. We are left with a feeling that we are slightly better dressed and more eloquent, but are still standing on the street corner with a sign “no money, no food, 1 100 000 children to feed, please help”. The question to ask at this point is how did we get here? In order to answer this question we need to look at where we came from. Traditionally the non-profit sector filled gaps where government did not meet its mandate, and the result is that much of the work has been “out-sourced” to NPO’s, but not at the same value as the same government service. This glaring imbalance and lack of respect for equal partnerships between Government and its’ people plays itself out in a sadly infuriating relationship that feels abusive. We are praised at the NPO summit by the President for the development and growth of the NPO field, but told by the officials that there is not enough money. We are lambasted by the SAPC as being funded by Imperialists and always taking the Government to court. To add further insult to this injury, there appears to be an ever increasing mistrust in our motivations and ability to govern and be held accountable, so the corporate sector funds in strange ways. A sad irony that contributes to the overall picture is that our improved perceived international status is resulting in less international aid coming in and ever increasing amounts going out.
Now we feel like schizophrenics standing on the street corner with an unintelligible sign and wild staring eyes. Are we paranoid or is there a sense that the NPO’s are  facing a slow death and taking the hopes of the full realisation of the rights of children with them? There are some who believe that this is the case and this was raised at a summit to launch an NPO code of governance. It was suggested that the government began destroying the traditionally strong and fiercely ethical NPO sector when it launched the YDA and the NDA. The thought has stuck with us, although unprocessed at the moment. Our history was one of challenging government, if we maintain this are we seen now as critics, rather than the voice of the voiceless for the current experience of rights realisation for children in South Africa? 
We know this whole mess sounds like the idle and uncontained ramblings of a messy mind. Well that may well be true but it highlights the feeling we are left with, bewilderment! So what do we do? We march on the National Lotteries Board, they laugh at us. We meet with DSD on many occasions and all we seem to get is transformation talk and some very concerning innuendo that we are unethical, multiplying too quickly and unable to govern appropriately with insufficient funding. We need to reflect on this point as the psychological training we had kicks in on a deep level and screams “this sounds like transference to me.” What you say about us firmly reflects you. So we, in true advocacy style mobilise and get angry, we ask for disaster zones to be declared, and we receive letters in return. We challenge the budget and again we are told there is no money and that we need to find it elsewhere as the funding dispensation will shift to developing organisations based on a myth that established NPO’s are rich and hiding money. So we are left with a situation where the GWSSDF co-ordinator stated it as it actually is, there is a policy of “redistribution of poverty!”
Why is this happening, well very simply based on empirical research, there are not enough skilled people to do the work and the money allocated is totally insufficient to meet the mandates. We have in the vicinity of 160 000 social workers in the country. We need that full amount to meet the Children’s Act mandates and then have not even begun to address the other levels of vulnerability in our population. We costed this Act and came to a set of figures where we looked at full implementation (Clem Sunter’s Premire League scenario), we look at a basic minimum funding dispensation (possibly Sunter’s Second Division). Research shows that in terms of the second division scenario the State is funding at less than 50% and in Premiere League terms less than 10%. So where does that leave us? Well it could be argued that the pie is only so big and as a result can only be cut in so many pieces. However we hear of widespread corruption, mismanagement and incompetence and would like to see this budget. However, more pertinent is the proposed Toll Road Amendment Bill that seeks to get relief funding for the financial losses incurred due to civil society court action. How much are they asking for, billions, how much to we need to avert of crisis of children that needs to move to a crisis of conscience? Some of those billions. So here we are where we started, money as the priority and the neglect of the financial potential of human capital.
Where does this leave us, with Sunter’s final scenario, a failed state. We constantly quote Whitney Houston and loudly proclaim “I believe that children are our future”. How then is it that we do not invest in them now? Let’s leave this here with an image in your mind of children going to school in good faith to realise the potential of their promise of education and the future it opens or closes doors to. Rural children walking for miles and parents sacrificing to access education. On those dusty roads there is no pot of gold or light, there are not even books. As the rivers of Limpopo carry the hopes and dreams of the children down with the books dumped in them, we are reminded that children’s rights are going up in smoke, as they are burned with the books that are destroyed when they were never replaced. How will we replace the hope and trust of our children in us!
Money and the skilled, conscious, ethical will to use it for the good of all as opposed the financial enrichment of self. In order for this to be realised there needs to be an acknowledgement of the crisis facing children. We look back at the cost of denialism and the warnings put forward at the time. The scenario planners again looked at possible outcomes and we are now faced with headlines like “three orphans bound and stoned to death”, “Cries of gang raped girl” and “Mutilated girl, 8, drags herself home.” In the most telling of all stories highlighted in the media we are told that parents have refused to let their children attend school as a way to get roads tarred. If parents are breaking the law and using children to do it and the country cannot get control over its institutions charged with the care of children, where are we in recongising the rights of the child.
We talk of child participation so what are the actions by and against children telling us? There is a deafening scream “help” -  will it be heard?

The sad truth of the disabled in South Africa on International Day of the Disabled

On Mon, Dec 3, 2012 at 8:13 PM, Johanna <johanna@sophiatowncounselling.co.za> wrote:
Today is the International Day of the Disabled. It seems that this important day has forgotten this man, as have the many agencies tasked with the duty to uphold his rights and his dignity. A few months ago this man, aged 59, had a stroke which has left him paralyzed and totally unable to care for himself. He is unable to speak or walk, and unless somebody gets himself to the toilet on time he soils and wets his pants.  When they could do no more for him hospital staff dumped him with his only relative, his sister. She shares a bed with eleven children in a quarter of a sitting room in a flat in one of the biggest slum buildings in Berea. The sitting room is shared with two other families, while a couple lives in the one bedroom. Altogether 20 people share a bathroom, a toilet, and a tiny kitchen, which is home also to a huge deep freeze, containing nothing but one frozen orange and the encrusted stains of beetroot juice. Between the bed his sister shares with her children and the curtain which demarcates the living space of the next family, is less than one meter, just enough to squeeze in a wheelchair and a small TV. There is no space to move except onto the bed.  The flat reeks of urine and faeces. The wheelchair is broken. Social workers at the hospital told the sister that they could do nothing to find proper care for him (because he is a refugee), and at the humanitarian aid organization tasked with assisting disabled refugees has as yet not been able to come up with a workable suggestion.  No food, no linen, no space to move, no toiletries, no adult disposables, no care, no concern, no compassion. On this International Day of the Disabled we seem to count only those who achieve seemingly superhuman feats. A traumatized, smelly, starving, dirty disabled refugee does not fit our image of disability heroism.

Shame on us all!

Johanna Kistner

Executive Director/Clinical Psychologist
Sophiatown Community Psychological Services
4 Lancaster Street, Westdene, 2092