South Africa is losing much of its undocumented history and, as a result, our history is very one-sided. Oral history work rewrites history from an Afrocentric point of view.
History holds generations together. But much of what happened in the past has not been captured in written records. Oral history brings this past to life.
Stories that would otherwise be lost to us are are passed on from generation to generation, by narrators, who tell us about the anonymous makers of history.
Why is this important? Oral history enables us to gain knowledge on the history of our family, school or community. It can help us deal with sensitive issues (for example forced removals) and contribute to healing, and it is an enriching learning process.
How does it work?
When we begin an Oral History project, we must first define:
- What is the goal of the project?
- What is the historical subject that we want to investigate?
- What background research should be done?
- Who can provide information on the subject?
- How many, and what types of interviews will be conducted (individual and or group)?
- What questions or topics will be explored?
- What personnel, equipment and materials do we need?
- What funds will we need and where will we find them?
- How are we going to use the information?
- What kinds of material will be generated?
- How will that material be used?
- Where will the material be stored?
Information resulting from the process can be disseminated in various ways: though exhibitions, written material – ranging from easy readers, booklets, books and newspaper articles to research theses. We can also share history though museums, exhibitions and the performing arts.
Before going ahead, we need to consider ethical issues such as confidentiality, informed consent and empathy for the interviewees.
Memory work is at the heart of Sinomalando. It is hugely beneficial to orphaned and vulnerable children and youth who have been affected by the loss of parents, a positive HIV status, drug abuse and various other psychosocial issues. Children in need of counselling are referred to Sinomlando by schools, clinics, hospitals and other NGOs.
Activities and games
Trained facilitators use various games and activities to encourage children to share their experiences and recall aspects of their family history which might have been ignored or silenced. We encourage them to ask questions and express emotions such as sadness, anger and worry, as well as happiness and joy. By working through their emotions, these young people are able to come to terms with what has happened to them, and learn ways of overcoming deeply disturbing events in their lives.
We also do a lot of group work, where participants learn to care and support one other both during the sessions and afterwards. It is often helpful to involve the children’s primary caregivers in the process. These people usually have similar issues and benefit from going through the memory programme as much as their young charges.
Following on from the successful completion of the memory work, participants may be enrolled in the after school programme, attend a youth camp or advance to our leadership programme. From there, they may go on to join the Young Reporters radio project or attend skills development training. Each of our programmes is interrelated and designed to support and complement one another.
We work with local clinics to give psycho-social support to youths living with HIV.
Psychosocial and academic support for young people who are susceptible to, or already involved in, drug abuse and other behavioural problems.
Young people with leadership potential are taught life and leadership skills, how to work as a team, problem solving, communication, events management, negotiation and report writing.
Often parents themselves have their own emotional baggage and benefit greatly from our psychosocial support. Without it, they may be unable to understand or support their children and grandchildren.