You Thought Your Job Was Hard?

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By Lesley-Anne van Wyk WINDHOEK Most of us seldom see the harsh realities that many people suffer on a daily basis. But for a social worker, seeing pain and suffering is just another part of a day at the office. Imagine your day begins when you are woken up by a wrenching scream from the hellish nightmare of a child. You run out of your room, down the cold hall to the room where a newly-accommodated mother and child are sleeping. You fetched them a week ago from the police station where the bruised and wounded woman bravely stepped forward to charge her boyfriend with domestic violence. The last time, the court couldn’t find enough evidence to convict the abuser and she had to return to live with his violent temper. Her quiet toddler is still struggling with the trauma of being beaten unconscious by his father. This might be how Amor Britz, permanent social worker and shelter manager at Friendly Haven, started today. Women who live in fear of reporting abuse against the person who supports them financially and who may just further the abuse and threats, can come to this shelter for counselling. The women are assisted to make their own decisions on how to support themselves and their children. At least Amor has the peace of mind that the security for the shelter is relatively watertight because the Police Women and Child Protection Unit keep them all safe. No angry and revenge-bent husbands or boyfriends will show up at the gate demanding their woman’s return because the location of the shelter is kept secret. In addition to counselling, Amor creates a homely and confidential environment at the shelter. She has her hands full with attending to the abuse victims, buying groceries, seeing that water and electricity is up to date, transporting them to work, court or school and arranging management committee meetings every Tuesday evening. Duties at the shelter are for Amor as numerous as her days are long. She is also responsible for organising fund-raising initiatives for the shelter which have been considerably successful over the years. Since 1996, the shelter has grown from a two-bedroomed space to a building that can accommodate 18 persons at any given time. Plans for this year include making the shelter self-sustainable by starting income-generating activities where women can make cards, for example, to sell to get additional funds for the shelter. But in the meantime, Amor is setting up an extensive supportive network with other shelters to share best practices, create more awareness about gender-based violence and collectively develop an advocacy programme and in so doing inspire more confidence in donors for their support. Aside from empowering the inhabitants, Amor also wants to build up a ‘buddy’ system so that women who have been through the legal process can help other women in the same situation. Court proceedings are emotionally taxing and stressful for these battered women and children. Amor knows this all too well as she has been there for each woman that comes to the shelter. How emotionally exhausted must she be? Friendly Haven has for this reason put a support system in place for its employees. Veronika Theron, a Friendly Haven board member, has acted as Amor’s mentor over the years and she confides and releases her feelings about what she experiences at the shelter. “People caring for victims of abuse are at high risk of burn out, it’s not an easy job being confronted everyday with pain and suffering.” But the relationship the haven has with the police unit has brought Amor much relief and to help these women move on with their lives. But now her morning has already started with cooking breakfast for the people under her care. The toddler with the bad dream smiles shyly at her when she gives him a bright juicy orange to take with his school lunch today. She will see to it that he is dropped and fetched at school and arrange with his teachers to have him excused for tomorrow when he will attend the court session. Hopefully this time, he and his mother will have some justice.