THERE is an aura of calm when I return to Khanyisa where the current cohort of students in the Computer Learning Centre are having their first group counselling session with Elizabeth Clack.
An experienced trauma counsellor, Elizabeth runs group and individual sessions 3 times a month at NewDay. The need was always there but was prioritised after an armed robbery in September 2021. On that horrific day, the team and beneficiaries in the building were held at gunpoint whilst computers and personal mobile phones were stolen. Miraculously nobody was hurt, but the incident – a trigger for many other issues in the lives of those who work with us, and whom we serve – revealed the need for ongoing support and healing.
“Our past does affect us now”, Elizabeth says … “until we heal from it”. Her session focuses on the start of this journey, and identifying feelings, the reactions they bring, and what deeper issues they might be revealing.
Elizabeth uses an expandable springy ball to demonstrate. This brings back memories of sensory play sessions in toddler play groups with my own children, and a use I never thought of! It proves to be a powerful way of helping those who may not have the words, to express how they are feeling.
The ball is used to illustrate the impact on our physical and emotional wellbeing when feelings are contained and hurts buried, we are tight and small. But as these are released, we can start to expand – like the ball – and grow as we heal. We leave as she begins a humorous role play on deep listening – a powerful reminder of how we can feel when we are not truly heard.
Contemplating her words, we head to the suburb of Mowbray, where Lizanne and Lorenzo are running our Work 4 A Living Programme at The Message Trust, South Africa – a social enterprise launched in response to the desperate needs of former prison inmates needing work. This 12-day job readiness course, which NewDay runs 13 times a year, equips participants with the skills to find job. It has been a great success with 70-80% of its graduates finding employment or going onto further education, helping break the cycle of joblessness and poverty.
This is the first time NewDay has collaborated with The Message. We meet with their Programmes Director for an encouraging conversation of what will hopefully be the start of a blossoming partnership, extending the Kingdom and practical reach to those most in need across Cape Town, and in South Africa.
I am struck by the lack of second chances which plague so many in this society, many in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unable to find work, the cycle of desperation continues. Humanly it can seem hopeless, so it is life-giving to see that alongside the practical tools the group is being given to find work, to hear the good news of Jesus shared and the hope we have through knowing Him who has given us a second chance through his death – and resurrection – from the cross.
On the final morning of the week, we arrive to the clatter of sewing machines and chatter of the group of ladies in the Sewing Enterprise, who are industriously sewing aprons and cushion covers.
I am introduced to Thembeka and Notha, who oversee this blossoming group. They are encouraging, equipping, and guiding the newest ladies with their different sewing projects. I see them beam as I overhear Lynn share the news that they will be receiving some income for cushion covers and other items sold as part of this empowerment project, and they debate where the money should be paid.
After I leave, I receive a beautiful photo of one of the ladies modelling a canary yellow dress she has made for herself. I love that this budding seamstress has chosen self-care, making something for herself.
Whilst the sewing machines gently whir in the corner, Jan, Charlotte and Avie are teaching the latest intake in the Computing Learning Centre (CLC) the elementary skills to use a computer. Jan Barnard oversees the CLC and together with Annemarie has designed and launched this accredited 6-month programme in end-user computing, which has helped many find work.
The students sit and observe quietly as the Jan gently guides them through the foundational tools in Microsoft Office’s Word with practical demonstrations of each function. Avie and Charlotte are on hand to help and support those who are struggling.
Most of the group are long-term unemployed so Lynn offers words of encouragement to the group – reminding them of the end goal and staying the course. “Every decision I make, determines the direction I take and the destiny I reach,” she says. It reminds me of Paul’s word to the Philippians ‘Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, pressing on to reach the end of the race …’ (Phil 3: 13b-14).
I have the privilege of speaking to this group. Impacted by the session run by Elizabeth the previous day, I am drawn to share the story of blind Bartimaeus from Mark 10 (v 46-52). Bartimaeus was a man who had spent his life begging. In the same spot. Wearing a cloak – a visible sign of his identity as a beggar and a blind man, he seems to know his life could be different. He shouts but does not move. Those around him try and silence him. But Jesus hears and sees him.
This can impact us all: feeling stuck in the same place, we may – or may not – shout, and equally not feel heard. But God sees. Interestingly, Jesus beckons Bartimaeus to come to him and then asks what he wants him to do for him. In the same way, God wants us to throw off the cloak – whether that is false identity or the things which hold us back – and run to him and confess our need. Then Jesus can heal. I love the way the story ends as the man, not looking back, follows Jesus down the road. His future looks different.
This is the vision and mission of NewDay United for each person who comes through their doors: that the programmes will practically equip the disempowered with skills to break the cycle of physical poverty, but that they will also encounter Jesus – the only one who can break spiritual poverty and bring healing and fullness of life.
Lookout for the third and final part of Rachel’s blog of her time with NewDay which will be out next week…
NewDay and NDU (NewDay United) have been used interchangeably throughout this piece.