Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit

Community Engagement Intervention Development

Building Bridges

The Building Bridges Mentoring Programme (BBMP) is a dynamic gender-based intervention that endeavours to promote equitable relationships by applying transformational processes to enhance agency and promote responsible and active citizenship. The BBMP manual was developed as a resource for facilitators working with men and boys, and women and girls, to develop leadership and mentoring skills to navigate the challenges of violence by promoting generative forms of masculinity and femininity, safety and peace.

The BBMP aims to strengthen individuals, build positive relationships, invest in caring and supportive families and communities through mentoring and capacity building, and mobilising community assets, including spiritual and religious assets that foster community connectedness, address community challenges and activate leadership, agency, activism and social change. The programme is embedded in a participatory, strength or asset-based approach that is geared towards addressing the complexity of interpersonal violence at multiple ecological levels (individual, relationship, community and societal levels).


Thembelihle Safety Demonstration Site

The interventions in Thembelihle in the south of Johannesburg have three interconnected focus areas, namely direct violence, structural violence and epistemic violence. Our aim is to develop interventions, through community-engaged research, that promote a culture of safety and peace, both within this community and, ultimately, across other similar contexts in South Africa and in the African region.

Direct violence, that is, physical (anatomical) or psychological (relating to the psyche) violence between individuals and groups that disrupts ”normal” social functioning, is challenged through a general focus on safety promotion and peacebuilding. Structural violence, or the ways in which normalised social systems disadvantage certain communities or population groups, is addressed through activities that focus on community-building and the facilitation and making of inter- and intra-community networks. Epistemic violence, related to the arrangement of knowledge systems and how marginalised groups are constructed by dominant groups, is challenged through interventions that privilege knowledge creation and sharing, both from within and outside the community.

These three facets or formations of violence accord nuance to our work and imbue it with a criticality that is often absent in orthodox research on violence, which tends to focus predominantly on direct violence. Our current basket of interventions includes several projects that work and embody community-based knowledge co-creation.


Community Storylines

The Community Storylines project constitutes three components: a collaborative documentary film, digital stories and a participatory film. Within each of these, participants from the community work with researchers and film-makers to produce multimedia products that attempt to tell particular stories around dehumanisation and formulate (re)humanisation discourses and practices that resist and re-story dominant narratives. Participants are drawn from various groups in the community, including school-going youth, adults who have lived in the community for a number of years and foreign nationals. In this way, we provide a platform for a range of community members to articulate and enact epistemic justice.

Through planned screenings in diverse spaces in and beyond Thembelihle, we aim to support (re)humanising spaces that facilitate social recognition, community cohesion and community action. In this regard, the project allows for innovative ways through which to express modes of resistance and spaces of (re)humanisation that speak to South Africa’s violent and unequal contemporary socio-political landscape. The project therefore sees an establishment of platforms through which participant voices can be harnessed to resist dominant meta-narratives, as well as other oppressive societal forces.


Children’s Activism Towards Safe Spaces: A Photovoice Partnership

This capacitation and mentorship project, supported by terre des hommes (tdh), Germany’s regional coordination office for Southern Africa, focused on the implementation of a child-centred Photovoice project by tdh partners in Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Through the provision of training, mentorship and technical support, the project aimed to strengthen and build partners’ capacities to implement Photovoice methodology as an approach to supporting child protection in precarious environments.

The tdh partners implemented the methodology with 30 children across the participating sites. Employing such formats as photo exhibitions, dialogues with municipal-level authorities on child protection, community campaigns and a photo book, the project has effected material changes at the local level that function to mitigate child safety risks. The project’s contributions have included: challenging the dominant discourses on child safety and protection; privileging marginalised voices and the co-construction of social change; and supporting a culture of competencies by recognising children as influential civic actors and as social assets and as possessing generative capacities. Importantly, the project has contributed to existing regional platforms for the development of safe spaces for children, the strengthening of local child protection mechanisms and the engagement of children in child protection-related social activism in their respective communities.


Photovoice Colloquium: Youth Representations of Safety

In May 2017, a total of 40 young people from several African countries convened in South Africa for a four-day colloquium on youth representations of safety. The colloquium was the result of ongoing engagement with groups of young people intended to avail platforms for meaningful youth participation in violence and injury prevention, and safety and peace promotion initiatives in indicated communities.

As part of its youth-focused community engagement, the ISHS and its partner, VIPRU, implemented Photovoice methodology with young people from South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Egypt to photograph things, places and people that make them feel safe or unsafe in their respective communities. The success of the colloquium was signified by the rich contributions of the participants, reflective of their leadership and social activism; evidence of the resulting collaborations and networks within and across the participating country groups; indicators of material changes in some of the communities that are directly attributable to this youth-centred community engagement; and the capacity of Photovoice to contribute to youth-driven social transformation.


Materiality and Spatiality in Peace and Safety Promotion

This project started in 2018 and builds on work done previously in the areas of livelihoods creation, community mobilisation and participatory mapping. The project is ultimately aimed at facilitating the development of a self-sustainable community through engagement with material and spatial aspects of living in Thembelihle, understanding the ways in which these aspects interact to contour the conditions of possibility for current perceptions and experiences of the area, and mobilising this knowledge with members of the community to build a peaceful and safe Thembelihle.

The project will achieve this firstly through an interactive participatory mapping process with members of the community, as well as through a series of skills-sharing workshops facilitated by community members. In this way we hope to surface both the tangible and intangible assets already present in this community and to mobilise residents to utilise these in service of the community.


Themba Early Childhood Development Centres Project

Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres play a vital role in promoting physical, psychological, emotional and social wellbeing. By improving opportunities for school success, ECD centres may in the long-term reduce school dropout, engagement in harmful behaviours and violence victimisation and perpetration. However, ECD centres in low and under-resourced communities in South Africa face numerous challenges which limit the quality of services they are able to provide.

The purpose of the current study is to evaluate the implementation and effectiveness of the Themba ECD project in strengthening the capacity of ECD centres in an informal settlement, south of Johannesburg, to meet children’s learning and developmental needs in preparation for school. The project consists of a multi-sectoral partnership, coordinated by the ISHS, that will provide participating centres with training in management and administration; training to help the teachers enrich their learning environments (including the implementation of a standardised curriculum); provision of nutritional feeding to enhance children’s capacity to learn, and support for the ECD Forum to serve as a peer resource.

The results of the study will contribute to the evidence base for improving the quality of services delivered by ECD centres in low-income communities in South Africa. The aspiration of the project, which is to improve children’s opportunities for school success aligns with the unit’s broader goal of combatting structural and direct violence.


Cartography of Violence and Peace Project

This Cartography of Violence and Peace Project aims to investigate the patterns of violence and peace within a low-income community in Johannesburg. The specific objectives of the study are to:

  • delineate the current incidence, nature and patterns of exposure to violence
  • identify factors that both contribute to and undermine peace and safety, and
  • identify community assets that contribute to peace and safety.

This information will be used to establish a baseline for monitoring change in the extent and patterns of violence within the community over time. The baseline information will be useful in informing and evaluating the ISHS’s interventions within the community and provide a platform for further research. Specifically, the baseline information will allow for future assessments of the influence of infrastructural development, such as electrification and provision of housing, on patterns of violence over time and therefore advance an understanding of the relationship between infrastructural development, socio-economic assets and the incidence and patterns of violence within a community. Accordingly, this research will produce an empirical and theoretical platform to inform policies and practices on the prevention of violence in informal settlements.


Compassionate Community Conversation and Lecture Series

This Series, initiated in early 2016, is a community-engaged intervention that provides a platform for broad-based information-sharing in the Thembelihle community. The Series has shown significant growth in terms of participation and engagement by community members.

The Series consists of conversations and lectures facilitated by both experts in diverse fields and individual community members or groups. In particular, through the inclusion of community members as knowledge ”experts”, and by according legitimacy to community-based knowledges, the Series’ focus on knowledge-making and knowledge-sharing contributes to our agenda of pursuing epistemic justice.

The topics of engagement in the past year have also aligned with our goals of addressing direct and structural violence and have included a focus on gender-based violence and xenophobia, as well as community development and the building of community organisations. The Series has shown itself to be a generative space that bridges the gap between subject experts and marginalised groups, and has been the site of vibrant and productive conversations between different community members.


Compassionate Organisations and Capacitation and Networking Project

The Community Organisations Capacitation and Networking Project forms part of broader Ukuphepha Transformational Community Engagement interventions that are implemented by the ISHS, in collaboration with under-served communities. Based in Johannesburg South, the project works with community-based groups from Thembelihle, Vlakfontein, Lehae and wider Lenasia. Its primary objective is to capacitate these organisations so that they can mobilise resources and respond to issues that are faced within their communities (identified through asset mapping and other participatory activities). Through both general and group-specific training, the intervention targets three key streams: youth, Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDs) and sustainable livelihoods and economic empowerment. Spaces are created in which the groups can form connections with one another, so as to become an internal resource (network) that will enhance intra/inter-community cohesion when tackling common challenges. Each of the groups presents particular expertise in different areas of community health and wellbeing, and our hope is to improve these strengths, which can then be shared and drawn on by other groups in the network.

Last modified: 2019/06/26