Project Khuluma: A journey of discovery for the mentors

In July, the SHM Foundation held our first ever Leadership Camp with ten mentors from The Khuluma Khulisani Programme. This camp was intended to empower the mentors, giving them the opportunity to grow as individuals, by allowing them to lead in the design and delivery of mental health and well-being support for others living in similar situations.

Khuluma is a mobile phone intervention that delivers psychosocial support to adolescents living with HIV in South Africa, through closed peer-to-peer support groups of 10-15 participants via text message. These Mentors were once participants of the Khuluma groups themselves. Now, through the Mentor Program, they take an active role in facilitating the groups and supporting other participants.

During the camp the mentors took part in a lot of fun and exciting activities. For many of the mentors they were experiencing things they had never experienced before - a lot was new. I interviewed two of the mentors after the camp, who shared this feedback:

“It was a nice experience going to camp for the very first time. It gave me a chance to express myself and I was able to identify some of my strengths and weaknesses on the camp. The most memorable activity was the water canoeing race. Yes, I was afraid of drowning but I managed to get on the canoe and face my fear. I enjoyed helping others, and for them being able to see that other people can believe in me. There is always a shoulder to cry on when together. Being away from home was pretty nice. If another mentor was considering going on camp, I would tell them to go out and discover the true person in you and to have fun!”

“I felt so excited to go on camp. There was a small part of me that felt a bit nervous, what was going to come? I loved doing the obstacle course, we worked together during this course, we all supported one another and never gave up on each other. During the camp I really got to know the other girls, it was important because we are going to run more groups soon. It was so great being away from home, I was able to clear my mind.”

Although we wanted the mentors to have a lot of fun, it was also important that specific workshops took place about different topics. Fear was a big theme throughout the camp. In many discussions, mentors shared their fears, including everything from spiders to losing loved ones. We also spent lots of time on self-love and self-care, where the mentors were able to discuss the biggest factors of stress in their lives that prevent them from focusing on themselves. Examples of some of the stresses were; not fitting in, school pressure, not being able to accomplish their goals and their health. All mentors created self-care plans, focusing on all aspects of themselves; their mind, body, soul and spirit.

During these workshops many emotions came forward and grief was one of the most central among them. The mentors were encouraged to write a letter to someone they had lost or to write down feelings they wanted to leave behind on camp. These letters and feelings were burnt in a fire to symbolise leaving those negative emotions at the camp, or to say a final goodbye to someone whom they hadn’t been able to tell everything they wanted to.

Although all the mentors are living with HIV themselves, they continue to be bold and courageous young adults. They face other problems in their lives, not just HIV, yet they are able to remain positive. Positive in themselves and positive in their outlook and still wanting to make a difference in the lives of others. I personally found them a really inspirational group to spend time with.

During the camp we were able to discuss and evaluate The Khuluma Khulisani Mentor Program, through an exercise called ‘Flash’. The facilitator asked direct questions and the mentors responded in short answers, which provides quick and often deep insights into how they felt about the program. All Mentors were positive about the program, saying they find it ‘inspirational’ and ‘eye opening’. They said the program has taught them how to respect, support and care for others.

The camp was a huge success, the feedback from the mentors overwhelmingly positive. The highlight for me is knowing that positive memories have been created, which the mentors will look back on for many years to come – as will I.

Moving forward, we hope that this is something we can do on an annual basis as we all, both mentors and team, have learnt a lot. The mentors developed their leadership skills and also strengthened their ability to work as a team. And on top of it all, we all had a great amount of fun.

Blog By: Ashleigh Beukes

Published: 12 September 2019

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