Mobile counsellor helps youth

mobileClinic---textBanetsi Mphunga, a qualified counsellor, standing next to his Caracara. The vehicle will be used as a mobile psychology unit to serve the people of Khayelitsha. (Image: Ground Up)

A vehicle known in the township as a caracara for its coolness is adding a coolness factor to psychological interventions in the township of Khayelitsha, in Cape Town.

Banetsi Mphunga, a qualified counsellor, bought a VW microbus, popularly known as a caracara in the townships, in May. Because it is the size of a small room, he decided to turn it into a mobile psychology unit.

Mphunga’s caracara will offer free help to township youth who are dealing with psychological trauma.

He told Ground Up, the news organisation that focuses on social justice stories: “I grew up in Khayelitsha. I am a registered counsellor by profession. The idea of the mobile clinic started after realising the need for psychological services here in the township. I realised this from the kids that I worked with in a previous programme; it was an after school care programme.

“I was a programme manager for psycho-social skills, high school level, which is the group that is most vulnerable when it comes to substance abuse and gangsterism.”

PSYCHOLOGICAL ISSUES

Mphunga was inspired when he saw problems manifest in other children when they had to interact with others during his study group. This is when he realised many needed psychological interventions in their lives.

“They always manifested in front of other children and I had to constantly intervene,” he explained. “I enquired from my educator friends, principals and school kids about why they are not making use of psychological services and counsellors in schools.

“This is where I discovered that in order to get psychological assistance, they had to wait for weeks to be attended to by someone from the Department of Education, because they didn’t have counsellors at school. So I thought starting a practice could help the community.”

TEACHER CALLED EXPERIENCE

Mphunga is no stranger to the effects of substance abuse. “I also experimented with drugs while growing up,” he admitted. “I started smoking weed and then from there I did mandrax, but luckily I managed to stop before I became an addict and before my family found out. But these days, kids are not that lucky.”

Since buying the vehicle in May, Mphunga has used it to lead a study group of four schoolchildren, which sparked the idea to use the minibus as a practice.

“A kombi is more or less the same size as the rooms that I have viewed that I would be using and running the practice from. The study group tested my idea of using the kombi as a practice and I saw, I could do it. I can engage with the kids in comfort and no-one can just walk in and disturb us,” he said.

“So I just need to have this kombi fixed interior-wise, put tinted windows and branding, then I will have a clinic that can assist these kids. This is a popular van among these kids, because everywhere I go kids note the green kombi even though there’s nothing special about it. They even start singing the hit song <em>Caracara</em> when they see the car. So since it’s a popular van it can work well as a consultation room.”

Although in need of funding to equip the kombi fully, Mphunga said nothing would stop him from starting to operate in August. He would use the mobile practice as a referral agent to rehabilitation centres.

“Something that I have noted in my observation of psychological services,” he added, “is that kids default on their therapy sessions because they are stigmatised for seeking psychological assistance because there is this thing in society that if you seek psychological assistance, then there is something wrong with you, that you are mentally challenged or you are weak.

“There’s also an issue of fear of the clinical environment. They feel intimidated by the environment and talking to someone. The kombi can serve as an initiating tool for therapy.”

First sessions could take place in the mobile practice, with referrals and follow-up sessions at a more established venue. Mphunga has applied for rooms.

“Not all sessions will be in the kombi, only those that need immediate help. Like for example when there has been a shooting in school, we will be there. The kombi will be like an emotional ambulance.”