Over the last two years, the Mikhulu Child Development Trust has focused on supporting fathers to be more active and engaged in their children’s lives. We have partnered with community-based organisations that work with fathers, training facilitators to run group book-sharing courses with men across the Western Cape Province. We take a look at how this aspect of Mikhulu’s work has grown and ask some of these community-based organisations how the programme has impacted them.
Training facilitators in Khayelitsha, Kraaifontein, Delft and Mfuleni
Following research on fatherhood ー a project that involved Mikhulu Trust, UCT and Sonke Gender Justice ー Mikhulu Trust expanded its work to train facilitators in community-based organisations that focus on working with men in areas of fatherhood. Leading this project is Zikhona Jongizulu, the Programme Coordinator at Mikhulu Trust. Having gained a BA in Social Work from Fort Hare University and work experience in the GBV, victim empowerment and community work sector, Zikhona joined Mikhulu Trust in 2022.
“My role is to train community-based organisations,” says Zikhona. “At the moment, we are working with Sikhula Sonke and Fathers Connect in Khayelitsha, Men’s Fellowship in Kraaifontein, Community Changers 4 Life in Delft and Youth Intervention Community Projects in Mfuleni.”
Zikhona runs the book-sharing facilitator training with the aim that these facilitators can share these book-sharing skills with men in their own communities. “These facilitators understand the men that they are working with, the areas that they are working in, and the challenges that these men in these areas are dealing with,” says Zikhona.
More than just book-sharing: exploring challenges of fatherhood
“During the book-sharing training, fathers [who join the book-sharing sessions with facilitators] are encouraged to share experiences and challenges around fatherhood. This gives an opportunity for them to open up about other challenges that they are facing,” says Zikhona.
“For example, many of these men feel that the justice system of South Africa is sidelining them. Sometimes they are denied the opportunity to raise their children by the mothers, and they perceive that addressing this matter in court is futile,” she reflects.
These fathers’ experiences and frustrations are their lived reality. In South Africa, though, both men and women have faced deep challenges relating to parenting. Women are typically defaulted to being the primary caregiver facing huge practical challenges of providing for all children’s needs (financial and non-financial). Many women care for their children in the absence of fatherly support. This, however, is not always the case — it is important for all parents to acknowledge both mothers’ and fathers’ challenges.
“The other issues are around stereotypes regarding what it means to be a man; for example, that men do not cry. This is all compounded by unemployment and they feel ‘weak’ when they are not working. Substance abuse is a common way of coping with the issues that they have.”
The book-sharing programme provides an opportunity for fathers to open up about the issues that they are facing, and it provides links to other psycho-social services available to them. This is echoed by Themba Baleni, from Fathers Connect in Khayelitsha. “Book-sharing also evokes a lot of issues in [the fathers’] personal lives. Fathers … shared the pain that is going through in life especially when it comes to their children,” says Mr Baleni. “Some fathers go through a lot in life like the issues of gender-based violence, the patriarchal system, absent fathers, and imprisonment. So book-sharing opens other issues that we were not aware of.”
Hearing from community-based organisations
Zikhona has trained 20 facilitators in the Western Cape so far. This includes ongoing check-ins and support with the facilitators who go out to the field, including help with recruiting and retaining fathers for the book-sharing training.
“I would like to see this project expanding to other parts of South Africa,” reflects Zikhona, “because I believe that if fathers are more involved in their children’s lives, so many challenges that we are facing today would be overcome. I want to see it expand, and I want to see it have a wider impact on our country!”