Transforming Communities, Changing Lives 


Go to the people; learn from them; build on what they know…

Posted by Martin Keat

Reflections on continuity and change in the life of The Bishop Simeon Trust

Written by Trustee Jan Fredrickson


To serve the community you must know and love the community; it is not just a job (Child Care Advocate coordinator)

I’ve been a Bishop Simeon Trust trustee for almost 10 years and have witnessed many transformative changes and key developments. A real turning point in my understanding was a visit in 2012 to some of the projects we support, as part of the Guardian’s International Journalism Competition. My role was to mentor two of the young finalists in researching for their final pieces, published later that year.

Looking back, I’m struck by a note I made on the first day:  Partnership is key, need far outstrips capacity and Child Care Advocates (CCAs) work way beyond what they are contracted or paid for.

On that visit we met and interviewed a whole host of BST beneficiaries, workers and community leaders who were open and generous in sharing their life experiences and frank in acknowledging the huge challenges facing them. The need to combat gender-based violence was then and remains a high priority for young people; education was and is seen as the key to improving lives for individuals and for the wider community. Children left to bring up siblings valued and emulated the example shown them by their deceased parents, especially their mothers. Youth workers who had suffered rape and abuse as children were now working as educators and leaders themselves: “I deal with abused children one-to-one, starting with my own experience, to gain their confidence, and encouraging them to talk. They must know there is life after abuse.”

We quickly realised in 2012 that poverty and unemployment undoubtedly contributed to abuse, which became even more prevalent in cramped conditions: undoubtedly, but not unavoidably. What has changed significantly over the past 5 years is the coordination, the systems by which we plan, collaborate, monitor, review and plan again. All funding commitments are linked inextricably to the Trust’s Big Ideas, i.e. the fundamental principles that guide all our work and decision-making.

What appeared in 2012 to be pockets of wonderful humanitarian work going on in a rather scatter-gun formation all over a vast geographical area, in 2017 is a structured network of Safe Parks provision and Peer Education programmes. The hundreds of young people involved have a safe place to go, to have their basic needs met and beyond that, opportunities to develop their potential in a variety of creative ways. They have professionals to guide and mentor them and the support to become leaders and peer educators in their own right.

This has not happened by some fortuitous accident; it is the result of exemplary partnership working; of rigorous, heart-searching thinking and planning by a dedicated, courageous staff team; a robust process of monitoring and evaluation and very strong leadership. Above all, it’s been the fruit of people engaging in constructive dialogue, to identify needs, maximise resources, draw up priorities and address the issues head-on.

The beacon that was lit by Bishop Simeon himself and the inspirational founders of the organisation burns brightly. The next task as far as this blog is concerned is to follow up the stories of some of those remarkable people we met in 2012 and see what’s happened to them over the past 5 years. More to come……… 

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A big part of our work here at the Bishop Simeon trust is committed to assuring that children and young adults in South Africa are able to challenge and conquer those obstacles in their lives that prevent them from accessing education and assuring that they can  make the most of the potential they possess to thrive and build a positive future.