Father of three, Leon Smith describes himself as someone born for community work…. heart-work as he calls it. As a Salesian Life Choices’ Community Champion, he shares how through helping others he learned more about himself.
Born and bred on the Cape Flats, Leon says that his upbringing has always played a big part in where he spends his energy. “Because of the highlighted struggles that we had at home, and growing up with very little money, I am aware of what is happening in communities. Throughout my life I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the homes that were similar to mine. My parents were the ones who made the difference, they never treated us like we were poor, and always motivated us to dream big.”
Through this need and desire to shift the status quo in his community, Leon got together with a friend from Hanover Park who is equally passionate about community development.
“My friend and I were talking about bringing programmes like personal development workshops to areas in the Cape Flats. He had attended a positive parenting workshop with Salesian Life Choices and said that it would be good to bring it to our community in Belhar. At the same time I had another friend who attended the same workshop in Hanover Park who also motivated me. She said that it will be good for parents in the area and that I will benefit too. I have three kids, two who are in their 20’s and one who is 14 - she said that the course helped her understand her son better, and that it will do the same for me.”
“I remember thinking that there must be something great about this programme, because I saw a change in both my friends in the way that their confidence grew and in the way that they were parenting. One of them has a son with a learning difficulty and before she was always down because of his condition, but after the programme she had hope.”
Armed with determination, Leon arranged to meet a facilitator from the Salesian Life Choices’ Family Affairs programme.
“When I met the facilitator we spoke about the parenting workshop and I explained to him why I think it would be great to bring it to Belhar, he agreed and a few weeks later we held the first workshop. We had the idea to run a few workshops, where I host them and the facilitator runs it. When the first one launched, I was eager to attend, and interested to see how the parents in the community would take it - I was surprised at how much I was learning. I mean I have older kids so I thought I knew what parenting was about.”
Leon says that even though his original idea was to bring the course to his area for others, he soon realised why his friend was motivating him to attend.
“I felt like the first two modules that focused on self-motivation and self-development were very new to me. I’m someone that moves, I don’t really think about myself it is more about others, so thinking about my life was a bit difficult….we also thought about the roles our parents had played in our lives. It really made me think about my inner motivation and what I believe about myself.”
Leon adds that he had many moments in the course where he learned new things but he says the session on understanding children’s behaviour stood out to him. “The course taught me that a child is just a smaller version of an adult, they are not robots, as parents we have to listen to them attentively and understand that all children are not the same. Before the course, I looked at my children like they are all the same, through the course I learned that my daughter is a child that is not strict on structure and that my son is the opposite - for example if we had made plans with him it is very important to him that the plans do not change because he loves order.”
“As a parent I need to keep this in mind when I deal with them. I’m still in the process of figuring out how my youngest is, and the way I’m doing this is by really listening to him… Before I thought I was listening, but I realised that I talk a lot, and that get’s in the way of conversations because sometimes all the other person wants from you is to listen to them. Today, I am listening more.”
Seeing the benefit of the programme in his own life, Leon says that at the end of the first workshop he knew more parents would benefit and along with his friend - who motivated him to join the programme - Raatiqah Tagodien they hosted 5 more workshops in BridgeTown, Pelican Park and Belhar and soon became Family Affairs community champions. Champions are people who take messages that they have learned through the workshops into their community and gather people for workshops.
“We are happy to spread the messages because it is important for parents and guardians to learn these skills - because what changes in the home can change a community.”
Motivated to bring further change, Leon and Raatiqah launched their own Non Profit Company, Igziabeher Community Projects in June this year.
“Igziabeher means “Let God Be Praised” and our slogan is to edify - educate and empower. I had been thinking about launching an organisation for a long time and after the parenting workshops I felt motivated. I think I needed to deal with my issues before I could work in the community.
Leon says that it’s been just over a year after he joined his first parenting workshop and that much has changed in his life… both in his own home and in his community.
“Today, I am better for myself, my family and community. I’ve learned the skill of listening that has changed how I view people and their situations. My heart is in community work and I will continue enhancing myself so that I can serve with confidence and strength.”