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Confronting Violence: Experiences in a South African Home for Abused Children
an article by Jisun

During my junior year of college, I had my first experience with the effects of violence among children in a former township of South Africa. International Volunteers of South Africa placed me at Kidshelter, a home for disadvantaged young boys, as both a childcare worker and an assistant social worker. The boys ranged from five to sixteen years of age; some were orphans, but many were juvenile criminals or came from abusive homes.

I was unprepared for the encounter. Seven adults, including myself, with no money for anything other than bare necessities could not handle the thirty boys in the home.

The boys' lives had evolved into a kind of prison: violence towards even their friends kept each boy in place. What's worse, while I myself was not violent, my mindset began to change into seeing the world in their way. I wondered whether strict physical discipline wasn't the only way the boys would understand.

After three weeks, I had yet to gain the boys' trust or respect. During one especially difficult day, a boy in my dorm assaulted me. I wanted to quit, but I realized that a lack of violence on my part was not enough. In addition to trying to stop the boys from being violent, I had to offer them real alternatives.

The home's social worker and I devised a weekly counseling system during which each boy could have relative control over how they wished to interact with us. This eliminated the perceived power imbalance, and opened dialogue. Since my time there, Kidshelter's counseling system has expanded to similar homes. Although my time ended before I saw concrete results, our hopes were that such a counseling system would allow for a smoother, less violent atmosphere in the children's daily lives.

International Volunteers of South Africa has a long history of community service. Open to people from all walks of life, IVZA is just one of many positive services promoting peaceful, concrete change amongst the nation's youth. It is part of a global volunteer placement agency, which can be found at


Question(s) related to this article:

Can longstanding violence be helped by someone from outside?,

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The Art of Mediation

Comprehending a culture is absolutely pivotal for a third party to successfully mediate a peace between individuals, countries, and political entities. After all, everyone is unique and views the world differently, influenced by their language, beliefs, customs, environment, heritage, upbringing, family, and morality. While there are definitely similarities between cultures and some universal principles, it would be foolish to assume that societies are interchangeable, especially when attempting to overcome feuds. When conflicts arise, each party feels that their stance is legitimate, even if their point of view can seem absurd to outside observers. Therefore, in order for negotiate a peace between hostile bodies all parties must feel that their cultural ideals and beliefs will be respected.

Politics and cultural differences are one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome when attempting to reach a settlement between conflicting parties. Mediators need to carefully examine the reasons for each groupís actions and responses in order to discover a commonality. If a powerful enough shared belief can be discovered, such as establishing peace for an equal share of economic and political growth, violence might be subdued. Yet to accomplish such a difficult task, it is pivotal for mediators to have a strong comprehension of the diverse viewpoints. . ...more.

This report was posted on May 13, 2002.