Volunteer Work

Are you a Compassion Revolutionary[i]?


Last week I was feeling good about myself. Just come back from a good church meeting, singing one of the songs and stopped at the traffic lights. It was late, and being the observant “alert” guy I am, was looking around. And as is the case at most major traffic lights, there was a guy standing there begging for money. He came up the window.               I responded by saying “Sorry I’ve got no change.”

It was his response that got me, “hey, you went to Boksburg High didn’t you?”

“Yes?” I replied, a little confused.

“Well, you may not remember me, but we were at school together”                                         (I didn’t remember)

“Ok…So how are you doing then?” I asked clichéd not even thinking-                                (He’s not doing well, he’s living on the street, dammit!)

At this moment the lights changed to green, my car started edging forward slowly.

He looked at me and said “well, not so good as you can see, when you’ve got some time I’ll tell you how things fell apart in my life”

At this moment my conscience started rising up… do I stop?

I didn’t.

I said goodbye and carried on driving, even considering stopping at the petrol station to turn around but instead went home, feeling quite guilty that I didn’t stop.

Here was a guy, who was no longer an unknown, faceless tramp on the street. But someone who I went to school with. Someone who quite easily could have been me. I must be honest, I didn’t think about this “chance meeting” again, until I picked up the book Compassion Revolution by Dave Donaldson, cofounder of Convoy of Hope. In his book, Donaldson writes that compassion means “to suffer with“. To come alongside someone in the midst of their suffering and pain. It is to have, “an internal churning of deepest sympathy and compassion, to grieve with the grieving and hurt for the hurting”

Now, to be honest I’ve been in those situations where I’ve come alongside someone who is grieving, hurting or sick, a family who has lost a loved one tragically in a car accident, an operation that went wrong, a hijacking that turned into murder. I’ve had compassion, deep hurting compassion for these people who we could easily call victims, survivors, invisible heroes.

But what about those who are not victims? How do I find compassion within me for those whose situation is self inflicted? Usually, I’ve not. Coming from a background of battling alcoholism, I have a limited “compassion” tank for a drunkard or addict at times. When I’ve worked with the police, I’ve been cynical and hard hearted. I’ve practised what Donaldson terms selective compassion.

I know I’m not alone here. Most people do. We “differentiate between those we deem deserving of it (our compassion) and those we don’t”

Our compassion extends to the 11 year old head of a household whose parents passed away with AIDS, but not as far as the prostitute or street worker who has a TIK[ii] addiction, giving up her self dignity for that next hit or blow. The mother at the traffic lights ‘using’ her child, or someone else’s to gain support or donations. It is quite possible that because we have been exposed to so much suffering in South Africa, that we are immune to another persons sob story, becoming cynical and non-compassionate, unless the sob-story is something that we are prepared to relate to.

Of course, that makes sense because there are many chancers, con artists and manipulators of the system out there trying to part money from us. But still, they are in the minority. The vast majority of people who are suffering in our beautiful country are genuine victims of circumstance, tragedy or bad decisions. But we don’t see them. We are selective at times.

Now coming back to the concept that compassion means to suffer with, I get the suffering part, having experienced deep empathy with the victims I’ve helped but what does to be “with” really symbolise?

This morning while taking my son to school, I drove past an informal settlement[iii] close to where I live. Rubbish is strewn across the pathways people take on their way to work. Recently they protested about the lack of service delivery. These people are poor.

Donaldson writes that the principle of with can change the way we see social problems and view the poor. To distinguish ourselves from the poor but using labels such as “the haves” and the have-not’s, or those less fortunate than ourselves doesn’t help us to truly make a difference to their lives. Because quite frankly, we don’t always understand.

Henri Nouwen writes in his book Compassion, “that Compassion is not bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position, and is not a reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below, it means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there”[iv]

Now, I don’t think he meant ( at least I hope not) that we go set up home in the squatter camp, but he did mean that we need to adjust our attitude and understand what people are going through. To, metaphorically build a home among the poor, (including the poor in spirit) to be with them, to listen to their struggles; to truly understand their battles.

When we look around at the struggles South Africa faces; our poverty, the high crime rate, addictions and social injustices, we need to acknowledge that change takes place when we change our attitude.

Change starts with me.

So, could you be a Compassion Revolutionary and make a meaningful difference in the lives of those “less fortunate” than you? Will you start understanding by being with someone who is a have-not? Can you?

Go on, South Africa needs you to. South Africa’s problems of poverty, crime and social injustice will only change when we understand and start revolutionising our response. Change starts with one person changing.

The next time I get stopped by my ex-school friend, I’m going to stop and find out what happened to him. Just a small step in the right direction to being a Compassion Revolutionary. (perhaps I’ll even go looking for him on the street….)

[i] (Dave Donaldson, 2010)

[ii] Tik, South African slang for Methamphetamine (USAN) (pronounced /ˌmɛθæmˈfɛtəmiːn/ listen) (also known as methamfetamine (INN),[2] N-methylamphetamine,methylamphetamine, and desoxyephedrine) is a psychostimulant of the phenethylamine and amphetamine class of psychoactive drugs. When used illicitly, methamphetamine is commonly referred to as “crystal meth“, “meth“, “crystal“, “ice“, “p“, “shabu” or “glass“.

[iii] informal settlement:n (Sociology) South African euphemistic a squatter camp, also known as a shanty town (also called a squatter settlement) is a slum settlement (sometimes illegal or unauthorized) of impoverished people who live in improvised dwellings made from scrap materials: often plywood, corrugated metal and sheets of plastic. Shanty towns, which are usually built on the periphery of cities, and often do not have proper sanitation, electricity or telephone services.

[iv] (Henri Nouwen, 1983, p. 27)

Volunteer Work

Story from the heart


Poor Children


Last week I had the opportunity to start working with a Non-Proift Organization " Project feed the Children" dedicated to feeding children in various disadvantaged areas in and around Benoni.My job will be to assist and train their team of pastoral counsellors in trauma support. Arriving at the informal settlement outside Putfontein my heart was touched by the young children standing in the line waiting for what will probably be their only meal for the day. One little boy arrived with a plastic container, filled it with  a warm meal and walked back to his home. I realized how lucky my boys were. Anytime they are hungry, they can go to the fridge, cupboard and get something to eat. Not this boy. He was possibly taking food back to his family to share with them. He was only two years old, the same age as my youngest. My heart wept that there is still such evident poverty in South Africa!

Social Activism


We all complain about crime in South Africa. When one is exposed to the challenges and social ills experienced by a vast majority of South Africans such as lack of services, no food, no education, and a lack of stimulating development for young children, one realises that the answer to many of our problems lies in us helping those less fortunate than ourselves such as the child pictured above.

Make a difference today,

South Africa needs it desperately!


Volunteer Work

Follow your heart..

Volunteering to make a difference..

Most people want to make a difference and help….Even when a child is young, and somebody falls and hurts themselves on the playground, most children are filled with this desire to assist and care for and try and make it “all ok” Even my own boys, as rough as they are, when they accidently hurt someone (usually their dad) they want to kiss and fix the injury. And so, I believe that most people are born with this intrinsic desire to assist and to help others. But there is a downside to this, sometimes as one of my mentors said “good intentions are not always enough; in fact sometimes good intentions can cause damage”

Take for example, a Good Samaritan who stops at a motor vehicle accident. The injured person has a possible spinal injury and the first thing the Samaritan does is to carry the person out (probably important if the car is burning) but even I with my limited medical knowledge know that one should first:

· Call the paramedics, emergency services

· Do “C” spine and keep the person as still as possible to prevent further injury.

It is the same with trauma support or crisis intervention in the traumatic stress field. So often, we want to help the person to “feel” better, that we fail to recognize that at times our actions may have a detrimental effect. Even volunteers, with insufficient training or incorrect training may cause more damage to the “victim”. (Of course, we have all made these mistakes ourselves)

Therefore it is vital that a person has a good understanding of what trauma is and how the traumatic incident may affect us physiologically, psychologically and interpersonally. Having said that though, here are a few tips to ensure that your “willingness” to help and make a difference causes no harm to those whom you want to help and enhances your experience of voluntary work in this field.

1. Be a part of an organization that values volunteers.

2. If you are going to volunteer at a police station where there is not organization present, ensure that you have a formal Memorandum of understanding with the station/ station commander that sets out the roles, expectations and objectives of volunteers working there.

3. Get good training and continue to go on courses.

4. Continue learning from other people in the same field and related fields

5. Have a mentor or supervisor who is more qualified than you in the same field.

6. Listen to the advice of officers; emergency personnel: take what works, discard the rest.

7. Look after yourself:

a. Self-care is vital in this field; if you are not ok, how can you help others?

b. Go for regular counselling, sort of like a doctors check-up.

c. Ensure that you have balance in your voluntary work: don’t take time away from yourself, family, hobbies etc. this is a recipe for disaster and burnout.

d. Regular on-going training and education ensures that you are not “overwhelmed” or left feeling helpless because you do not have the skills to do the work.

8. Do not step outside your boundaries!

a. Know what you may /or may not do in terms of volunteer job description.

b. Follow mental health guidelines/ regulations. You are a volunteer not a therapist or registered counsellor.

c. Know what your boundaries are.

9. Finally, have fun and enjoy what you are doing. Remember the difference you make in someone’s life just by being there.

Volunteer work, can be so invigorating and inspiring. It makes a difference in your life, and more importantly in other people’s lives too. Although Trauma Support SA is a fledgling organization, if you want to volunteer and make a difference in your community,please email me –

Imagine, a victim being assisted by a well trained volunteer at a police station and then referred to a reputable healthcare professional.

Imagine police officers educated about the effects of their work and willing to ask for help.

Imagine….a country recognizing that many of the problems they face are not only poverty and a lack of service delivery,

but the effects of cumulative trauma from the past twenty five years.

Just imagine!

I believe that with the right combination of people who are passionate, dedicated and well trained we can begin to achieve this, but only if we start somewhere. So I’m starting….

We can take the journey together, make mistakes together,                  and discover together but more importantly make this vision a reality,

So, wont you join me and MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

Volunteer Work

Our Projects


One of the greatest challenges police and emergency services members face nowadays is the effect of cumulative trauma building up over the years as they offer essential services to the community. When managed in the wrong way, the effects of cumulative trauma can have a devastating effect on personnel sometimes leading to personnel turning to alcohol, drugs or even taking their own life. The objective of “Be a Hero & Talk” is to meet with personnel at station level and present a short 5 minute video on PTSD and then spend an hour raising awareness and educating personnel as to these effects and encouraging them to go for regular counselling sessions.

Pay it forward


Development of community trauma support centres.

The need for community based trauma centres and well trained volunteers complemented by professional staff is desperately needed in many rural and urban communities, and Trauma Support Services South Africa has a vision to assist underdeveloped communities in setting up these centres and ensuring that they are sustainable over the long term. One such example is to assist the Boksburg North SAP in setting up a Victim Support Room.