Why did we start?
During my work as a researcher and PhD-student, I came into contact with a lot of children and their mothers in two under-resourced, high-risk communities just outside of Paarl (one-hour drive from Cape Town). My first visit to these two communities was in August 2018. Fresh out of Amsterdam, the contrast could not have been bigger. I had tried to mentally prepare myself, and I managed to do so quite well. But when a small girl (3,5 years old) walks into the room on a cold winter’s day, without shoes and a hole in her sock, you quickly get faced with the harsh reality in which these children have to grow up. To find out what these children, their mothers and caregivers and our local staff are going through, I just had to sit back, listen, and observe.
One of the first things that became apparent, is the positive mood and sense of humour these women bring to our research site every day. The children are excited to join us for some games and they listen carefully to what we say. They enjoy their juice, sandwiches with peanut butter & syrup, and of course their party-pack with toys and treats at the end of the session. Talking to the mothers, and hearing what they had been through, I often wondered how they were able to face these adversities. But they seemed to endure these negative experiences naturally. It was the norm, it happened to everyone in their neighbourhood, and you just have to ‘suck it up’ and ‘go on’.
There was a lot for me to learn from these brave, resilient, women. Often, they don’t complain, even if they had to wait all day at the clinic before they could see a doctor. Gradually, I noticed these women did have negative feelings like all of us do. They were just taught to put those feelings away, don’t talk about it and go on with daily living. And that was the exact same way these mothers were raising their children. More and more, I learned where these mothers are coming from and how their way of coping with difficulties is helping them stay afloat in a deeply troubling world. But, more and more mothers asked me for a little piece of advice, a word of wisdom, some help, with dealing with these emotions. They often had heard about the word ‘depression’, and they were quite certain that they themselves were having ‘depression’, however, they had no clue what the concept meant.
That is when the first idea for Little Lions came to mind; finding a way to communicate with women and children from these disadvantaged, yet resilient, communities on how to deal with emotions, to learn from them and maybe help them with my limited knowledge. It wasn’t until I met with George, Harold and Elain from Health Promoters, that the idea for Little Lions started to develop and really take off.