Tuesday, 12 August 2014

You don't have to be mentally ill to suffer from mental illness.

In a period of just one month, my wife Katindi Sivi Njonjo and I have lost two dear friends to depression, and the world woke up today to news that depression had also claimed one of its most beloved entertainers, Robin Williams.
The grief of those most directly affected by these tragic deaths is unimaginable. But what is truly tragic is the utter neglect of mental health by both policy makers and society at large; the assumption that those who suffer from mental illness are somehow to blame for their misfortune for being weak or failing to just 'snap out of it', as if being mentally ill was something they accept by choice .
And yet it is the case that you don't have to be mentally ill to suffer from mental illness because all of us have a family member or a close friend or know someone who suffers depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or some other form mental illness. And with all the pressures of modern living, mental illness is reaching crisis proportions.
And so as we mourn the passing of Robin Williams, let us take a moment and consider what we can do, individually and collectively, to be the agents of healing for those suffering in our midst by fighting stigma, advocating for the necessary resources by government, and by being there for those who, due to no fault of their own, find themselves alone and trapped in the prison of their own minds.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Being His hands and feet...

Yesterday, Day 4 of the Citizen Mobilization Conference, participants went on a field trip to visit the J.L. Zwane Memorial Church and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in Guguletu. The J.L. Zwane visit was as humbling as it was inspiring. Under the leadership of Rev. Spiwo Xapile, the church has become a beacon of hope in the impoverished community ravaged by poverty and HIV/AIDS. The local congregation broke ranks with the denomination leadership to embrace the needy in the community, joining hands with TAC despite the latter being associated with gay people and prostitutes. J.L. Zwane opened its doors to the suffering and cared for the dying. Today, it hosts a hospice and has trained social workers and care givers to walk with the HIV/AIDS victims in their last days. Some of the lessons we learned from J.L. Zwane:

- We must allow ourselves to trust even the untrustworthy, for only then do we create space for transformation.
- The local church must support and cover those that step forward and go and serve in the front lines. The church should be a refueling station where members come to recharge their batteries before going back to the battlefield.
- We must deconstruct church hierarchies and make church relevant to the people’s lived experiences.
- We must be willing to go beyond all boundaries. Having suffered exclusion ourselves, we should not exclude others.
- Need to link grassroots actors with policy actors.
- We cannot commit to winning an argument and losing a person.
- God needs a person to go for Him, and I'm that person.

As we left J.L. Zwane, we left behind a beehive of activity. A TAC workshop on sexual and gender based violence was underway in the hall, children in the after school programme were enjoying their lunch in the courtyard, some women were singing melodiously in the sanctuary, and the sick and dying were being cared for with dignity in the hospice.  In other words, the church was doing what the church was always meant to do – to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, engaged in the work of healing the community, feeding the hungry, spreading hope, and reconciling people to one another and to God.