Special Reports

A dependable lifeline for all

Johann Barnard, Qudsiya Karrim

LifeLine received its first call on Saturday March 16 1963 in Sydney, Australia

LifeLine has been instrumental in implementing HIV counselling and testing campaigns

Winner

Sudley Adams Memorial Award

LifeLine Southern Africa

Qudsiya Karrim

LifeLine was the brainchild of the Reverend Alan Walker, a Methodist minister who envisioned a "telephone network of care" for those in need of help, advice and a sympathetic ear.

The Southern African chapter kicked off in Cape Town in 1968 as a service organisation that provided emotional support to individuals dealing with trauma. Since then, LifeLine has expanded its footprint across Southern Africa and now has 20 offices in South Africa alone.

Although the promotion of emotional wellness is still its core function, the non-profit organisation has diversified its services and become a key role player in tackling HIV/Aids and gender violence.

The Investing in the Future judges decided it was a worthy winner of the special Sudley Adams Memorial Award, dedicated to a person who worked tirelessly to make the world a better place. Adams, convenor of the Mail & Guardian Investing in the Future and Greening the Future awards for the past 13 years, died in May of kidney failure.

One of LifeLine's most successful initiatives is the Ithubalethu ("our chance") project, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. This outreach programme, in partnership with the eThekwini municipality, is aimed at getting sex workers in Durban, among them little girls and grandmothers, off the streets. The Ithubalethu team runs awareness campaigns and provides one-on-one counselling to sex workers, but the project goes beyond handing out pamphlets.

LifeLine Durban's director, Pravisha Dhanapalan, says the aim is to mobilise vulnerable youth and encourage them to make better, responsible life choices.

"Our peer-to-peer educators, some of whom were previously sex workers themselves, are the driving force of this project. They have the empathy to connect with the women at a grassroots level based on their own experiences," says Dhanapalan.

An "exit strategy" is a crucial component of the Ithubalethu project, because it ensures that the women are empowered to follow a different life path after they have received counselling. "We offer skills development through HIV/Aids, PC training and financial management courses. Once they graduate, the women join an aftercare support group and LifeLine links them to employment opportunities," Dhanapalan says.

In the past financial year, the Ithubalethu team reached close to 4 000 high-risk youths and plans are under way to roll out the programme on a national scale.

It is at this national level that LifeLine's interventions regarding HIV/Aids are most notable. The organisation operates the national Aids helpline on behalf of the department of health. Since it took over in 1992 the helpline has been a key provider of counselling and awareness services. It receives an average of 3 000 calls a day and is regarded as a best-practice model for partnerships between civil society and the government.

LifeLine was also instrumental in the planning and implementation of the government-led HIV counselling and testing campaign, aimed at promoting HIV testing and prevention. Since it was launched in April 2010 more than 20-million South Africans have been screened.

LifeLine's well-established HIV/Aids programmes across Southern Africa are based on promoting ­testing as well as social and sexual behaviour changes and deepening the dialogue around the stigma of diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis.

The organisation has also recognised the need to address social ills, violence, discrimination and inequality in communities, says the acting director of LifeLine Southern Africa, Tichaona Chikowore.

"We acknowledge that the challenges communities face can't be solved through counselling alone, so we recently transformed our vision to include a new approach, called 'community dialogues for behaviour change'," Chikowore says.

This is a proactive method aimed at empowering citizens to work together to find solutions to their own problems instead of relying on the government to solve them. Through dialogue and interaction LifeLine has helped communities address issues of xenophobia and service delivery in their areas.

"With this new vision we hope to inspire positive change. Only when people believe in themselves and believe that they can alter their own circumstances will we begin to see such change," Chikowore says.

Although HIV/Aids, gender violence and community mobilisation are high on LifeLine's agenda, emotional wellness and support remain key priorities. This is a service of which the organisation is deeply proud — and rightly so: more than 1.6-million people use LifeLine's telephone and face-to-face counselling services in South Africa each year.

Sport keeps pupils in line

Winner

Sports Development Award

SuperSport Let's Play

Johann Barnard

South Africa's love affair with sport does not always translate into consistent results on international playing fields, with tremendous expectation often setting up sports-mad locals for disappointment. Such is the nature of sport.

One sporting initiative that has shown consistent results is SuperSport's Let's Play campaign, which has grown since its inception in 2006 to engage hundreds of thousands of children every week in coaching clinics and events across the country.

"Corporate social investment is not just about charitable giving, rather it is the way in which a company and its products and services interact with society. Let's Play has gone beyond the call of duty in ensuring that a sustained and aggressive approach will ultimately make a significant difference to the wellbeing of our youth and generations to follow," says Vaughn Bishop, SuperSport's manager of corporate social investment and enterprises.

What sets the programme apart from other sports development initiatives is that the nurturing and refining of world-class talent is more a side effect of Let's Play's success than its core focus. SuperSport, a group of TV channels owned by Multichoice and carried on DStv, launched the programme in 2006 with a hard-hitting educational campaign.

The intention was to encourage young people to participate in sports and fight off inactivity, build their confidence and promote a healthier lifestyle. This includes discouraging crime and improving academic results, in which Let's Play has claimed not-able successes.

South African children, in line with global trends, are becoming alarmingly inactive. According to a recent study done at the University of the Witwatersrand, the average South African child only exercises for 34 minutes each week. Young people should exercise for at least 60 minutes and adults should accumulate at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. About 20% of children at school smoke and 23% have at least one alcohol binge a week.

"Although the many results of Let's Play are hard to quantify, the fact that it touches hundreds of thousands of young lives every week demonstrates the substantial penetration it has already achieved in its short life," says Bishop. "The behaviour patterns of children are highly contagious and the friends of participants can easily be influenced to adopt a more participative sporting lifestyle."

Let's Play engages actively with about 700 000 children every week through its weekly coaching clinics. About 1 000 coaches support it at 1 200 schools in nine provinces. The schools with which the programme is involved readily attest to its positive influence.

"Pupils used to use drugs openly and violence, theft and fighting were rampant on the school premises. This has declined because pupils have become interested in sporting activities," said the principal of Kei Road Combined School in the Eastern Cape.

The Investing in the Future judges chose Let's Play as a winner in the sports development category because of its achievements — it has evolved from an awareness-raising campaign to the activation of on-the-ground capacity building.

Let's Play has built strong partnerships with government departments and sporting bodies and is actively involved in programmes to improve sporting facilities and coaching workshops.


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