Sharing my story: Attending the OUTRAGED Community Initiative in Hillbrow – Francette Bedford

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Driving along the highway entering one of Johannesburg’s most upmarket areas, famous for the priciest property in Gauteng – the Houghton area – one could easily see why Johannesburg is seen as one of the greenest cities in the world.  This was maybe why entering the Hillbrow area seemed to be such a huge contrast…as the wheels of my car were welcomed by sewerage flowing over deep potholes in the street.  I was thankful for my google GPS as the woman’s voice somehow anchored me and managed to direct me to where I needed to go in this world where most seemed so lost… There was a darkness I felt, and a deep sadness as I witnessed the decay of an inner city, but more than that, the hopeless look I saw in the eyes of the people walking the streets.   Do they know they can enter another world just a few feet away?  I could feel the filth, the rubbish and the sadness trapping and holding people hostage there.  Is it even possible that a church could be found here?

Outrage conference

But the GPS directed me to The Hillbrow Brethren in Christ Church, a beacon of hope, painted white, standing out among the brown dirty buildings of Hillbrow.  As the friendly car guard opened the gates for me to enter, the mood and atmosphere around me somehow changed.   I would later that day recognise this change, and call it hope. 

I was the first to arrive, attending the workshop in Narrative Therapy – named OUTRAGED – hosted by Phola and Elev8 Africa Networks. 

The OUTRAGED community initiative is a small step in the journey to push back against the anger, violence and depression that steal the lives of men, and consequently their families.  The church slowly filled up with representatives from various organizations, churches, NGO’s and individuals signing up and enlisting to be part of a drop of hope in the big ocean of what seemed to be an endless sea of despair and tragedy. 

Nickson, our host, proclaimed that only a few is needed to make a change.  A ripple effect is indeed a strong current in an ocean!  I could not help but to think of the 12 disciples, and how few it took to spread the gospel.  Ncazelo Mlilo from Phola (Phola is the Zoeloe name for Healing) presented the OUTRAGED methodology based on narrative therapy principles as a framework to stand up against anger, violence and depression. 

In South Africa boys and men often experience significant trauma and hardship – socialization however often restrict these boys or men to talk about these experiences, the effects, and resulting emotions.  Furthermore, men are sometimes “restricted” to exhibiting only social or cultural acceptable “male” behaviour or emotions – “anger” being much more acceptable among boys…

The OUTRAGED program is a group approach that seek to promote positive thinking and change negative attitudes and behaviour among men and boys at risk of perpetrating violence often because of anger and depression.  It reconnects these men with the spirit of ubuntu, their own humanity, their lost hopes, values skills and dreams. 

Michael White (2004) described recurrent trauma as corrosive to what people value or treasure and therefore they experience a diminished sense of self, loss or violation of purpose and what they give value to.  With this description in mind, it was easy to recognise how corrosion crept into Hillbrow, slowly eating away what was once a thriving town…

When I reflect on my experience, it is the stories that stand out…One man stood up and shared details of his life, admitting that he was in the claws of domestic violence, vowing to break the cycle that haunt families for generations.  More honest and raw stories of abuse and depression were born when group discussions followed.  I was surprised, humbled and somehow hopeful when these stories were shared so openly, without shame, laying the foundation of a commitment to make a difference, to use the pain and history of trauma to build a better future.  Slowly hope came into the room, blessing us with a new picture of what the future could look like. I realized that Hillbrow might represent a reality, but only one, of many possible realities.  Exciting the gates of the church, I was armoured with hope in my heart, a network of caring and brave leaders in the community, and a grateful heart as my own purpose connected with kindred spirits.  I believe that through the Community Outreach initiatives at Coram Deo we can play a fundamental role in training Care Givers, Community and Church Leaders, NGO’s representing Fathers and Men, supporting communities in standing up against violence, anger and depression.


Francette Bedford
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