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Many of us want to help. We see need around us – whether in our own neighbourhoods or in another region or country. But sometimes it can be hard to know where to start.

We might question whether we’re qualified enough. Whether we’re the right ones to help. Or whether our intervention will make a positive – and lasting – difference.

In 2012, Belinda Groves moved to Lesotho – a tiny landlocked country in southern Africa – for her job.  This led to a burden to help the countless children living on the streets of the capital, Maseru. In 2013, Belinda and her husband, Josh, founded ‘Sepheo’, an organisation dedicated to helping these children reach their potential – through educating them and reuniting them with their families.

In our second ‘One Life at a Time ’ podcast, Belinda Groves shares what she’s learnt during her time in Lesotho and eight keys she has found vital to creating real and lasting impact.

Listen to Belinda s full conversation with ACCI Head of International Programs, Catherine Thambiratnam.


Eight keys to creating lasting impact

1. Look at what’s already being done

When Belinda’s job took her to Lesotho for the first time, she was immediately overcome by the number of children living on the streets. In her free time, Belinda started volunteering with existing organisations which were already working with these children. And that s something I would highly recommend because when we arrive in a place or we meet a need for the first time, it s not the first time that need has been encountered,” Belinda says. There are usually people who've gone before us, people who are heavily invested in helping communities, and the first thing we should look for is where are those people? What can I learn from them? And if possible, how can I support what is already on the ground?”


2. Address root causes, not symptoms

As Belinda got to know more about the issues in Maseru and how existing organisations were responding, she noticed one key issue: programs were overly focused on symptoms. There were a lot of feeding programs, clothing drives, sporting activities; the sort of things that entertained children, but didn't help children to leave the streets,” Belinda explains. None of these programs were dealing with the underlying issue of why children were on the street in the first place. Neither were they able to help the children return to their communities or remain in education. Belinda and Josh committed to creating a solution that did.


3. Build relationships

According to Belinda: Relationship is absolutely critical to transformation.” What does she mean by this? Firstly, you need relationships – deep, trusting relationships – to understand root causes…. But the other part is that… people do not heal on their own. People heal in relationships with other people.” To achieve its aims of getting children off the street and into families, Sepheo builds relationships – with children, with the families they’ll eventually return to, and with the people in the wider community who will be critical to helping them reintegrate.


4. Ensure you have the right skills to help

While passion and love can get you to a certain point, Belinda says it’s important to ensure you – and members of your team – have the right skills to help meet the needs of the population you’re serving. If you lack the appropriate training or qualifications, you either need to upskill yourself or get someone into your team who fills this gap. Otherwise, you risk diluting your impact, or worse – causing more harm than good.

When you're dealing with a population that has experienced trauma, there are specific psychosocial interventions that are required in addition to love,” Belinda says. We have had to get people to come in and train our teaching staff, our social work staff in trauma-informed responses. And this has been critical to the result that we've seen amongst the children that we work with.”


5. Learn about, and work within, the local culture

When working in different cultures, Belinda says it’s vital to work within culture, rather than trying to replace it. Often, cultures already contain answers to the problem you’re trying to address. For example, We observed that Basotho culture already had ways of taking care of children who were abandoned or abused or neglected… We were able to go in and work with family meetings, which is the mechanism that was already used to identify which extended family member was able and willing to care for children. And we have been able to reintegrate almost every child from the street directly back into their extended family.”


6. Focus on strengths, not deficits

When working with people anywhere – whether overseas or in your own community – Belinda says: “It's important to remember that while people and beneficiaries do need our help, they are never helpless. There are often structural obstacles, problems in their society, resources they can't access, and our job is to help to remove those obstacles.”

For example, rather than giving a child a uniform and telling them to go to school – which may be completely unachievable for a child who has never attended before, or who comes with a history of trauma or neglect – Belinda and her team created a school that could accommodate their trauma. In the beginning, a child’s success may look like attending class for 10 minutes at a time, but “…if you give them something manageable, that begins to fuel that self-belief that they can change their circumstances and turn their life around.” 


7. How you talk about your intervention matters

Belinda says we often fall into the trap of labelling our interventions in ways that negatively impact how people see themselves and how they are viewed in their community. In attending other ‘street child’ programs, children In Maseru no longer saw the street as a circumstance but began to believe this was who they were. She says this belief undermined the effectiveness of interventions because the belief had become so ingrained that it had become its own obstacle to progressing in life.” At Sepheo, she and the team see everyone they help as a regular child and avoid using the words ‘street children’ entirely.


8. Be responsive as communities grow and change

When Sepheo first began, 80 percent of children on Maseru’s streets were coming from one particular set of villages. So, we moved into that village and we've worked for the last seven years to intervene early by working with local schools to prevent children arriving on the streets to begin with,” Belinda explains. Today, this area is no longer the feeder village for the streets. However, new villages are now emerging, as Belinda explains: We're discovering that the problem has actually moved and there are other hotspot villages now where children have started to come to town.” To be responsive to the changing needs of the community, the Sepheo team has learnt to continually monitor progress, pivot where necessary and adjust resources to where they are most needed.



So, what do things look like on the streets of Maseru today, and what kind of impact has Sepheo had on these children’s lives? As Belinda concludes:

Over the last ten years we have reduced the number of children living on the streets down to next to zero. Maseru no longer has a problem of street children. We have children back in homes, back in families, who have remained there. It has been miraculous to watch!” The Sepheo team has a weekly presence on the streets to pick up on new children as soon as they arrive. This makes it easier to reintegrate them with family, or move them to safer families, before they become permanent in town.


Want to partner with Sepheo or support Belinda and Josh? Head to their pages to find out more and to give to this life-changing project.



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