At the request of Khulisa Social Solutions, Matthew & Chantal of 5th Place head off to Kliptown to introduce twelve young souls to the benefits of Shape of Emotion and emotional fitness as well as offer them some respite from their negative and difficult emotions.
The birthplace of freedom
Kliptown is the oldest district in Soweto. It has a noble history as the place where the Freedom Charter was born. It remains desperately poor. Despite hundreds of millions spent on an upgrade in an attempt to redevelop the area, the Walter Sisulu Square looks neglected. The surrounding buildings are starting to show signs of wear. Informal traders cram around the outside edges of the buildings, while some have seeped into the square itself. The Soweto Hotel's flags hang limp and faded on their poles. The entrance to the hotel parking has been cordoned off behind orange netting and the hotel lobby is blocked by cement plinths.
Not the warmest welcome
Not the warmest welcome for two out-of towners, but it was not here that we were destined for. It was into the informal settlement across the railway line from the Walter Sisulu Square that we were lead to conduct a group Emotional Fitness Class, using Shape of Emotion, with unemployed youth from the area. We had been invited to try out our work there by Khulisa Social Solutions, an NPO working for social change in this and many other under-resourced communities.
A short stretch of tar quickly turned into pockmarked sand road bordered by crumbling buildings. Litter blew across the road and hung like forgotten washing on barbed wire fences. The road of rubble bent and dipped, got progressively narrower and then disappeared around a corner. Our robust car bumped along bravely and came to a gingerly stop outside a building barely habitable from the outside. Movement inside, however, indicated it was still in good use.
A makeshift church
The room we were ushered into was small and dingy and like everything else in that area - crumbling. White tiles covered some of the concrete wall of what might have once been a kitchen. Ragged curtains fluttered in front of cracked panes held together by glue or wishes. Neither had seen soapy water in quite some time. A makeshift pulpit jutted into the room. This, along with a few religious pictures clinging heroically to the wall, crosses pasted above window frames and several rickety wooden benches propping up some young people, confirmed we were in a makeshift church.
Space, noise and more noise
As we set up the space for the class - getting the young people to put the benches in a circle, setting out candles and incense - two older women knitted, gossiped and ate something bready and sticky in the corner. We weren't quite sure who they were or why they were there, but we left them be. Until their chatting got too noisy and we had to ask them nicely to lower their voices.
Outside there was more noise and lots of it - scraping and bashing in the road (were there really that many stones that had to be moved?), thumping doof-doof music competed with Barry White wafting from the bar across the way. A child cried and a mother scolded. Friends yelled greetings to each other. Inside it was hot and sticky. Flies peppered the air. We left the door open despite the noise and opened those windows not welded shut. It did not help much.
A first time for everything
There is a first time for everything and this was ours - doing a group class in conditions like these:
... noisy ...
... hot ...
... where English is not a first language and
... the concept of mindfulness and emotional fitness is as foreign as the tourists that saunter in groups outside.
Yet, somehow, in all the chaos, heat, and noise, we managed to still twelve young souls and offer them some respite from a difficult negative emotion.
It felt hopelessly inadequate to only do the clearing of one difficult emotion but the words of relief and smiles said differently. We left them with an expanded positive emotion, a small mirror to remind them that "it starts with me", and a two-hour reprieve from their not easy lives.
We have a dream that there will be people in every community like this one trained to facilitate regular Shape of Emotion group classes, what we call an Emotional Fitness Class . These Emotional Fitness Classes are like guided meditation sessions or yoga for the soul.
We saw that it can be done.
We were gifted with young people who want to hope, want to learn, want to teach and all who want more.
Feedback from the participants
The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Here are some examples.
The thing I enjoyed the most is the experience of dealing with my inner side.
I want to learn more and gain more knowledge and teach others who don’t know.
I learned how to get in touch with my inner soul and keep calm all the time.
I enjoyed communicating with my inner peace and I learned on how to distract myself from proliferation of things around me mentally.
I’ve learnt about how to manage your stress. How to take care of your body.
To connect with myself and to know how to release bad, sad feelings and open up for good.
Some of our learnings
It was a useful experience to go into Kliptown, to that dilapidated hot room with the noise outside and be flexible enough to get through the class. We exposed this group of young people to a tool that allowed them to work on themselves. The language was at times a barrier and the length of time with the group was potentially too short. We exposed more people to Shape of Emotion from an environment that we want to impact, namely youth from under-resourced communities.
Testimonial from Khulisa Social Solutions
On behalf of our Kliptown youth group who participated in your Taking Shape of Emotion workshop on the 10th October, I would like to express our most sincere gratitude to you for the incredible effective intervention rendered.
The feedback received from our participants has been overwhelming we sincerely hope that future such opportunities for us to work together in the future will arise.
Sending you our warm regards.
LESLEY ANN VAN SELM
About the author
5th Place offers specialised psychological services in the form of coaching and therapy for immediate relief from stress, anxiety, & other mental health challenges. It works fast, deep and quick. For individuals and groups, children, teens and adults.