The romantic view of the winelands inevitably includes lush green vineyards, bubbling brooks, neat white cottages and children playing happily in tree-lined country lanes. But life in a developing African country is often far from this idyllic picture.

Endemic poverty exists despite enormous effort from all sectors, and brings with it all the social ills that lead to severe and prolonged trauma of individuals, particularly children. Hungry children struggle to concentrate, but that can be remedied with a soup kitchen or a lunch pack. However, there is no quick fix for a traumatised child. Dedicated professional support is necessary to enable a child to learn effectively, work productively and make a positive contribution to their community.

It is in this area where Community Keepers (CK) operates: “Community Keepers is the only South African NGO that provides free, professional psychosocial support at school-based offices,” explains Bianca du Plessis, CK Marketer and Fundraiser. “Our offices are school-based to ensure easy access for the learners,” she continues, “with 41% of referrals by the learners themselves. They feel secure enough to knock on the door and ask for help.” Counselling generally starts with 2 evaluation sessons and 6 follow-up sessions, although some cases require sustained support.

Sixty percent of CK’s services focus on supporting individuals. But for meaningful change to occur, it is important to impact the various circles of influence in which a child finds him/herself, the main ones being their parents and teachers. Parents are often ill-equipped to assist children in dealing with trauma. Community Keepers therefore runs programmes to educate parents about mental wellbeing. Last year 9 618 children benefitted from therapy while 529 educators participated in support and development events. 4 729 parents attended educational events conducted by CK’s team of qualified and registered professionals.

It costs R400 000 per annum to equip a school with a professional, welcoming office consisting of two private counselling rooms and a meeting space, managed by a full-time social worker or counsellor. Rotational clinical and educational psychologists attend to clients on a weekly basis. Currently CK operates in 23 schools but their objective is to grow this to 100 schools by 2025.

“We have continued support from our core donors, one being the Cape Wine Auction, who are aware of the need and the difference we make,” says Du Plessis. “A generous donor has pledged 50% of the cost of implementing CK in five schools in the Franschhoek valley and we are currently raising funds to launch these offices. We’ve also identified Paarl as an area of expansion, and eventually hope to reach the entire Cape Winelands and beyond. The Northern Cape is extremely under-resourced, and given the funding we would gladly extend our services to the area.”

Despite the increase in depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among children in disadvantaged communities, funding for children’s mental health is trending downward. To meet their goal of 100 offices by 2025, CK is seeking to expand their donor base substantially. Their annual fundraiser, The Most Expensive Burger in Town, promises a gourmet burger by a celebrity chef, followed by an entertaining charity auction. This year’s burger event will be held at Nooitgedacht Estate on 12 September. For more information visit www.communitykeepers.org, contact Bianca du Plessis on bianca@communitykeepers.org or follow CK on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @communitykeepers

- Julia Moore