Reconnecting with Humanity

Hanna Leipold, an art therapy master’s student from the University of Hertforshire, visited Lefika La Phodiso for six weeks to experience the work that we do with children from Johannesburg’s inner city. She spoke to Rozanne Myburgh, training coordinator, about her experiences and learnings.

Hanna spent her time at Lefika La Phodiso working with the junior group in Open Studio, she joined our supervision groups, assisted in Drama Club, ran a self-care workshop for staff members, and volunteered alongside one of our Community Art Counsellors at Hotel Hope.

I asked her why she was interested in visiting South Africa, and specifically our centre.

“I find this place quite unique in its nature,” Hanna explained. “Johannesburg is a big city with extremely high crime rates. Yet you are doing remarkable work with the children.” Hanna heard about Lefika La Phodiso from Dr Hayley Berman, the founder of Lefika La Phodiso and the current programme director at the University of Hertfordshire. She believes she had to come and experience it for herself. Hanna describes it as an embodied experience. “I was intrigued and I felt my sense of curiosity pushed me to understand it fully.”

She believes that Lefika La Phodiso is novel in its approach. “This form of community intervention isn’t something that you can learn from a book. The concept of Open Studio and the closed groups, Uhambo, almost feels organic.” She described the organisation as needs-orientated with the ability to respond on the ground to the needs of the beneficiaries. “I’m especially interested in the feeding scheme. It is so far away from academics and what is taught at university.” Hanna believes her time at Lefika La Phodiso prompted her to think about the concept of therapy and about what therapy really is. She believes her intuition that therapy can take place anywhere – even at the roadside – was confirmed by her experience here. “It will stay with me forever.”

I asked Hanna for some advice for other international students who would like to volunteer with us.

“Come as open as you can and think on the ground,” was her first response. “You have to learn to trust your instinct and connect with what is similar to all of us.”  She described the sense of really coming home to her body and how that assisted her to stay present. “Try and remember what it was like being a child. That side needs to be nourished.”

Hanna believes that her experience was made safe and contained through the people that she met. Alisa Ray, a trainer and Community Art Counsellor at Lefika La Phodiso offered her a room to stay in. “She invited me into her life, introduced me to her friends and neighbours. She had a generosity that I have not experienced before.” She believes that it is important to get to know people who can assist and guide you through the process. “Now I have found a great friend.”

Hanna said that it is hard to pick one experience that stood out for her. “Everyday I experienced something new that was so challenging. I just grew. And noticed it more.” She described a sense of revelation when thinking about the inner child. “Sometimes a child just needs a hug. But we have so many theories about no touching – and in England it is much easier to reject that”. She says the main realisation during her time here was that it is all about the context; institution, culture, country, environment and politics. “As a therapist you have to be aware of everything. Structures and theories are so important, we have to think first, but we also have to be able to come back to ourselves and trust ourselves in the work.”

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    […] the participants understand it to be and the individuals who form and frame our personal identity. Hanna – an international volunteer – joined the group for six weeks and on her last session […]

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