COVID-19 Stories of Change: PHOLA, South Africa

Sep 30, 2020

COVID-19 Stories of Change: PHOLA, South Africa

These are testing times for the mental health projects we are working with. Each has had to think quickly, adapt & overcome challenges due to COVID-19. Each has had a unique journey, which we're going to share through our COVID-19 Stories of Change series.

PHOLA provides psychosocial support to vulnerable and marginalised communities in South Africa through creative methods that incorporate art and collective storytelling. These narrative methodologies, such as Tree of Life and COURRAGE, have been developed by the founder, Ncazelo Ncube-Mlilo. You can get more details about their online trainings here.

What were the greatest challenges?

Restrictions on travel and in-person meetings were imposed in South Africa from March 2020 onwards due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This affected operations at PHOLA as delivering their narrative methodologies in-person is an integral part of their work. Therapy sessions were greatly affected as vulnerable women in communities sort piece jobs. These women are forced to take up the odd jobs at the expense of psychosocial support to provide for their families.

A glimpse from a COURRAGE workshop with young children

What’s more, training other mental health practitioners around the world in their methodologies is an important source of income for PHOLA. Founder, Ncazelo, spends much of her time travelling to the UK and US to deliver these trainings in person, so the inability to travel struck a huge blow to PHOLA’s finances.

How have they adapted?

The team shifted their sessions online using Zoom calls and provided telephone counselling sessions. They have developed a new way of training people in Tree of Life and COURRAGE over Zoom. By changing their method of delivery, they were able to scale up mental health, psychosocial support, counselling and training for communities in Johannesburg and surrounding areas. This has proved to be doubly beneficial as their methodologies are now accessible to a wider group of people globally, as compared to earlier. Additionally, this has significantly cut down on their travel time as well which would take up a lot of resources- financially and time-wise, especially for Ncazelo, who runs these sessions. The purchase of SowetoCare System has helped the team manage data and analysis of its interventions for monitoring and evaluation purposes.

From a Tree of Life session.

During this time, PHOLA also provided dignity packs and food parcels for women and mobilised resources to start shelter homes to accommodate abused women and children during the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa. As the South African government gradually eases COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, and with the surge in domestic violence cases against women, PHOLA is rolling out O.U.T.T.R.A.G.E.D. a Narrative Therapy framework for men and boys aimed at the 6 prevention of Gender Based Violence. PHOLA also organised Tree of Life sessions for Ember’s innovations as part of the Well-Being package.

A Tree of Life session in progress while adhering to social distancing norms.

What were the enablers?

Despite the restrictions, digital technology played a crucial role for PHOLA as a means to continue work. Staff members have familiarised themselves with different platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to facilitate the delivery of their training to practitioners. In recent months, the team has managed to share tasks and responsibilities by keeping in touch with its beneficiaries and maintaining partnerships with other organisations in the communities.

PHOLA social workers spreading awareness in the community about mental health

PHOLA teams have created various group platforms called the virtual safe structures where communities continue to access their support and refer other community members in need of PHOLA’s services. The team is given weekly tasks and targets which are submitted at the beginning of each week, keeping all members updated on the progress of programmes. This also serves as a platform to brainstorm ways of resolving challenges.