A few days ago I wrote a blog about my experiences observing a workshop run by the WAR Campaign of Hillsong Church. Unfortunately the next two workshops we were meant to do were cancelled as we were on our way there, much to all of our disappointment. Nonetheless I returned home from the workshop we did do with a lot to think about: the approach of the WAR Campaign and how it compares to the Peer Educators program I have been involved in through Rape Crisis, my outlook on religion and how religion can influence social development, and lastly the gap between services and the community.
It was interesting for me to visit the schools with the WAR Campaign and compare and contrast this approach to Rape Crisis’ Peer Educators program. The Peer Educators program is developed by Rape Crisis to, “develop young leaders who help to create positive social norms amongst youth and provide help for learners who have been, or are in danger of, being raped.” The approaches of the two organizations are very different. The Peer Educators program works with one school three hours a day, three days a week, over the course of five weeks, whereas the WAR Campaign visits multiple schools to deliver 30 minute presentations over the course of one week each month. Both organizations intend to increase awareness and to educate communities in South Africa about rape and both organizations have gained great recognition and have seen great success. When comparing the two, some questions arose in my mind. I wondered how the age of the presenters of each program might influence the high school student’s perspective and attention. As I mentioned before, the members of the WAR Campaign were all in their 20’s whereas the women involved in the Peer Educators program are middle aged. When witnessing both organizations, age seemed to have no influence. The high school students in both programs were attentive and able to relate to the presenters regardless of age.
Next, as I stated in my previous blog post, I am not a religious person and do not identify with a particular religion. My relationship with religion is a bit complicated. I was raised in the United States in a Catholic family where we attended mass every Sunday and said grace at dinner each night. Aside from this, religion wasn’t a huge focal point in my everyday life. I didn’t make decisions based on what Jesus would do or how the Catholic church would view it. As I grew older I began to lose interest in the Catholic church and soon going to church became something that was forced upon me. Each Sunday soon became a battle between my mother and I; she really wanted me to keep going to church but to me it seemed like a waste of time since it wasn’t truly serving me in any way. Eventually, she stopped fighting me and simply said that she wanted me to find something spiritual to believe in and have a positive moral guide in my life. I found that with yoga, meditation and through my Holistic Psychology studies in school. This pleased her. I’ve noticed now, however, that when I hear of the Catholic religion some part of me cringes. In the United States there tends to be a lot of extremes with the Catholic religion which have gained significant air time in the media. Some of these include people oppressing the gay community and actively opposing gay marriage backing it with scriptures from the bible, people protesting Planned Parenthood (an organization that, among many other services, provides abortions for unwanted pregnancies) backing it again with religion, and people who were involved in, hid, or protected the many sexual abuse cases between priests and alter boys.
I am in no way saying that this is a reflection of Christianity as a whole, because it very clearly is not, though when I think of Christianity, unfairly, those thoughts arise in my brain. In my opinion, the vast majority of people in the United States have transformed religion into something so far from its initial intention. This is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I began working with the women at Rape Crisis, hearing the stories of the Belgravia High School students in the Peer Educators program, and from the members of the WAR Campaign. In all of the groups mentioned above, religion serves as a symbol of hope, inspiration, and as a driving force in their lives. There doesn’t appear to be this underlying evil or murkiness lying under the surface as is common in the United States. I heard time and time again from multiple people during my time here in Cape Town how religion allowed for them to turn their lives around and strive to be better people. How can you not support that? I’m truly grateful for this lesson alone, because it has allowed me to transform my cynical mindset on faith to instead be more accepting and open.
Lastly, I was considering the gap between services and the community. As I mentioned earlier, there were many schools that had arranged for the WAR Campaign to present but later cancelled. This made me question why they may have cancelled and on a larger scale why services don’t reach the community they are aiming to serve. While speaking with others about this, many people argued that maybe the schools didn’t want to have the presentation because it would be “opening a can of worms.” The presentation would take place, scars would be reopened, and then the presentation is over and the school is left to pick up the mess. I suppose I can understand this perspective, but the WAR Campaign hands out pamphlets raising awareness about the counselling services offered by Rape Crisis and how to get in touch with them. They also partner with rape Crisis to provide an on-site counsellor during the presentation for girls seeking further guidance and support. Therefore, even if the can of worms is opened, there is guidance for where to go and what to do afterwards, they aren’t just allowing the girls to walk off blindly.
By not having the WAR Campaign’s presentation, a school can continue to sweep the issue of rape under the rug. They may be able to live in ignorance, but I argue that it is not a blissful ignorance. As teachers sit there with a blind eye, so many of their students are sitting with unanswered questions and stories burning to be heard. Take the school I described in my previous blog as an example. Ten girls approached the counsellor, and who knows who many others have been affected by rape but weren’t ready to speak up. Again, what if the WAR Campaign hadn’t presented at their school and they weren’t allowed an outlet for their situations? Who knows what would or could have happened to these girls? At the schools who canceled, we won’t know because they haven’t been given the opportunity to speak up. No one wins in that situation.
Jen is an intern in the Training and Development department at Rape Crisis’ Athlone office. She is originally from the smallest state in the United States, and holds a B.S. in Expressive Arts Therapy and Holistic Psychology. She has come to Cape Town in the midst of her soul nourishing journey and continues to be inspired by this magical place.