The African concept of “Ubuntu” can be translated in many different ways, one of them being “African Humanism”. It refers to the traditional African system of values, which promotes a spirit of togetherness, respect for other people and the incorporation of traditions into daily life. It encompasses such concepts as commonality, co-operation, collective responsibility and interdependence. The "us" has greater significance than the "I".
The value system of Ubuntu is not just a theory among African cultures but is readily put into practice and is being continuously and actively lived in day-to-day life, especially in the poorer communities, where many people’s survival depends on this form of “African Humanism”. In the face of a crisis such as the one brought on by the Aids pandemic, thousands of orphaned children already depend on relatives or neighbors to provide for their most basic needs and, without the spirit of Ubuntu, would almost certainly be left to fend for themselves at very young ages.
These age-old traditions and customs must therefore be promoted and incorporated into any attempt to deal with the orphan crisis in this country and must serve as a base for any attempt at social work intervention on a grass-roots level.
A SET OF VALUES FOR PROFESSIONAL SOCIAL WORK INTERVENTION
The person-centred approach founded by the American Psychologist Carl Rogers (1902 – 1987), recognized as the founder of humanistic psychology, has become integral to contemporary social work practice in many countries across the globe, and has become the basis for the training of Social Workers and Guidance Counsellors at many universities, including the University of South Africa (UNISA).
Roger's basic premise is that each human being is a well of infinite talents and resources who is constantly striving towards self-actualization, and that this self-actualization will automatically take place once a positive atmosphere for personal growth is created. Therapists and Social Workers can create such an atmosphere by incorporating the values of conveying respect, practicing individualization, encouraging self determination and acknowledging and valuing each person as being created equal.
The person-centred approach has been very successful in both individual counseling as well as community development efforts in disadvantaged communities, and we therefore feel that the principles promoted in the person-centred approach serve as a good value base for the professional social work intervention in our project.
A PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION
AND CHILD REARING
The ideas on child rearing, pedagogy and education put forth by Austrian Philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925), whose philosophy became known as Anthroposophy, have been put into practice in several hundred schools (known as "Waldorf Schools" or "Rudolf-Steiner-Schools") Kindergartens, day-care centers and residential homes for street children and handicapped people (known as “Camphill Villages”) in more than 60 countries worldwide, including South Africa. His ideas have proved to be universally applicable to all cultures, religious communities and language and age groups, and have been highly successful in the work with people of widely differing physical or intellectual abilities.
Waldorf Pedagogy thus serves as an ideal basic philosophy for our place of safety and residential care facility for orphaned children. Steiner's emphasis on complimenting the intellectual education of children with practical education, such as the teaching of handcrafts like sewing, knitting, metal- and woodwork, as well as on the integration of music and arts into any curriculum is very much in line with the ideas we support about the education of children from disadvantaged communities, especially children from an African cultural background.
A HOLISTIC APPROACH
The project VULAMASANGO is an active attempt to integrate the abovementioned philosophy of Rudolf Steiner’s with the values inherent in Carl Roger's person-centred approach and the spirit of Ubuntu to form a holistic approach to dealing with the crisis at hand.
We try to identify and address the most pressing needs of our children on the grass-roots level and deal with them in a culturally correct manner. Steiner’s ideas on education and child-rearing are highly compatible with the values promoted in the person-centred approach and the views Carl Rogers expressed about the basic human tendency to strive towards self-actualization. The amalgamation of these philosophies with the concept of Ubuntu will aid the application of this holistic approach to the kinds of communities in which the actual needs are being addressed and in which this attempt at a social intervention on a grass-roots level is being made.