“We all have something we can share and help with” – insights from Hanover Park, Cape Town, South Africa

This blog was written by our Clinical Services Coordinator, Liesl Hermanus:

I remember the day I met Aunty Avril, it was 21 April 2020. I recall phoning her and explaining how with Covid-19 and lockdown I was seeing an increasing number of clients at The Perinatal Mental Health Project support service at Hanover Park MOU appealing for assistance with food. Without asking for anything in return, Aunty Avril agreed to accept the women using our services for food support.

Taking into consideration that all clients are either pregnant or have recently given birth, Aunty Avril and I worked out a system whereby clients would have streamlined access to her daily hot food kitchen in order to bypass the long queues. I was immediately struck by Aunty Avril’s warmth and how accommodating she was towards our clients.

There’s always someone calling for Aunty Avril.

Now at this point all I knew about Aunty Avril is that she was feeding around 600 people daily in Hanover Park. One evening I decided to Google “Avril Andrews” and couldn’t believe all the articles and videos about the amazing work she has been doing. It was the first time I learned about her son Alcardo, who was gunned down in 2015 and that the organisation was started in response to his death.

There was one article in particular that caught my eye. The headline read “Hanover Park’s safety net for the needy: We’re here because Aunty Avril is here for us”. When lockdown was announced, Aunty Avril closed her daily food support programme but it wasn’t long before she started serving again. The article explains how she could not ignore the calls of the many hungry people outside her home during lockdown.

I decided to share the article with three friends who I knew would be moved by Aunty Avril’s story. These friends included Ismaiel Isaacs, a photographer and videographer who uses his work to document the lives of those living on the Cape Flats. Another friend, Nabeel Petersen, the Director of Interfer, which is a participatory and arts-based collaborative social enterprise that strives to positively co-disrupt systems of exclusion and hegemony. And then, Lamese Waterfield, a very good friend mine who is based in London, who works on projects that create change and impact. Lamese uses digital and technology to amplify messages and create social mobility.

Within minutes of sharing the article, Ismaiel responded saying he would like to support Aunty Avril. He wanted to tell her story and how she responded to the pain of losing Alcardo by starting the foundation. He suggested producing a video in collaboration with setting up a Back a Buddy campaign.

Initially, I could sense some apprehension from Aunty Avril, taking into consideration she had never met Ismail before and here he was wanting to document her story. Nevertheless, he was filming in Hanover Park the following day. I remember how Ismaiel had asked me to go around to Aunty Avril the day he sent her the final video. As Aunty Avril and I sat in her living room that evening, I recall her crying while watching the video saying, “it’s perfect”.

The Alcardo Andrews Foundation Task Force Team delivering cooked meals to different satellite stations in Hanover Park.

While all of this was happening, I decided to create a WhatsApp group. We named ourselves The Alcardo Andrews Foundation Task Force Team. It is amazing thinking about how the nature of our relationship evolved over time from being very professional in the beginning to now sending videos of us doing celebratory dances when we hit milestones in the group.

We have been able to activate several networks to raise funds to help Aunty Avril provide relief to those people in Hanover Park who are facing extreme hunger. In addition to funds raised and the attention the foundation has received, a very special relationship has been formed between five people who would never have come together if it were not for me meeting Aunty Avril on that day in April. There is one message that will always stay with me that Aunty Avril sent in the group, “I don’t have words to say how grateful I am to have met you. I lost my son four and a half years ago, but I’m blessed with sons and daughters that are coming alongside and supporting me. Thank you guys, I appreciate you.”

I am most grateful for the manner in which Aunty Avril engages with my clients, with such care, compassion and empathy. In fact, this is how she engages with most people including those calling out for food outside her home long after they have finished serving. I have never seen or heard of her turning anyone away, including my clients.

Liesl has teamed up with Aunty Avril starting the Alcardo Andrews Foundation Task Force Team

Despite our roles being very different, Aunty Avril and I are working together to strengthen and empower those clients who have been referred to her.

If there is one thing I have learned through working with Aunty Avril, it is that we all have something we can share and help with. If we mobilise around each other, we can push things a little further because nobody is coming to save us so we might as well do it ourselves … and we can.

The Perinatal Mental Health Project – response to COVID-19

Disclaimer: contents of this blog will be published in the departmental newsletter, Faculty of Health Science UCT,  in June 2020

In an effort to address the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in South Africa, the Perinatal Mental Health Project (PMHP) has been responding in several ways.

Messages for Mothers

Just before the lockdown, in collaboration with the NGOs Embrace, Ilifa Labantwana and GrowGreat, the PMHP launched a Messages for Mothers (M4M) campaign to deliver multi-media, multi-language, evidence-based physical and mental health messages relating to COVID-19 for South African mothers and caregivers. It addresses mothers’ unmet need for bespoke information relating to the COVID-19 crisis. In particular, the messages are specific to the population of women highly vulnerable to the social and economic consequences of the pandemic.

The messages are developed in response to questions and conversations emerging from the NGOs’ networks of mothers communicating on social media. Furthermore, messages are developed, over time, to address the changing logistics of home, parenting and service user contexts in which women find themselves.  In addition to the mental and physical health message pillars of the campaign, there are pillars on mindfulness and ‘parenting in the pandemic’. All messages are developed in consultation and peer-reviewed by several professional and academic experts working in the public service sector. The messages are regularly updated.

The M4M content has or will be used on several National Department of Health platforms.

  • The National Covid Whatsapp line has now included a “Pregnant” content stream under “Conditions” +27 60 012 3456 – available in five languages
  • The National Framework and Guidelines for Maternal and Neonatal Care during a Crisis:

COVID-19 response includes several mental health considerations for staff and mothers and has a core health promotion component.  For this, the first appendix includes the full batch of M4M messages. These will be distributed with the Guidelines and an audiovisual training package to NDOH committees, master trainers, professional societies, and provincial and district health authorities in June

  • The messages will be used on the NDOH’s zero-rated website
  • A national radio campaign, Sikhaba iCovid19, is including the messages in various formats and in several languages on national and community stations across the country.

Mental health service at Hanover Park

The PMHP’s mental health service at Hanover Park Midwife Obstetric Unit (MOU) has needed to adapt to the crisis. Clinical services coordinator and counsellor, Liesl Hermanus, continues to support her most vulnerable clients through limited face-to-face sessions at the MOU.  Where clients have access to a mobile phone and privacy, she has also been conducting counselling sessions telephonically, supplying airtime funds if needed. To supplement this, she has been using the PMHP WhatsApp line, to support women through regular interactions, as required.

Food insecurity and access to baby care supplies in Hanover Park

In low-income communities, such as Hanover Park, large numbers of people are now facing severe hunger and feelings of helplessness. Pregnant women and new mothers appear to be especially vulnerable, as they struggle to take care of themselves and their newborn babies with limited access to support from their families, broader communities and fewer opportunities for household income to be generated. Many clients, who are either pregnant or have just given birth, have been talking about the desperate hunger they are experiencing during this time.  Since April, the PMHP partnered with a local organsiation in Hanover Park, The Alcardo Andrews Foundation, which provides food to hundreds of people in the community on a daily basis.  Liesl has used their streamlined referral system so that her clients and their households can receive food. The PMHP is using its social media channels and networks, to support fundraising for the Foundation.

Liesl has also activated several other networks to raise funds and supply basic baby care supplies to mothers in need.

The Alcardo Andrews Foundation providing meals in Hanover Park

Messages for Mothers in the News

Find out more about Messages for Mothers on our website.

Mindfulness exercises for #MMHweek

It’s the last day of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week

We are focusing today on

Mindfulness exercises

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has left many people feeling disconnected with themselves. In light of this, M4M reached out to Sarah Foale, a mindfulness practitioner and parenting coach and she put together a few short mindfulness exercises.

If you find 3 minutes to spare today, please visit our Soundcloud channel to practice some very simple techniques to help you be present and comfortable with yourself in the moment.

You can listen to this and other exercises in multiple languages! Visit our website for details: https://pmhp.za.org/m4m-mindfulness-resources/ and share with a friend


How do you know if you are worrying too much? #MMHweek

It’s Day 6 of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week and we are focusing today on

How do you know if you are worrying too much during #COVID19?

Everyone is worried during this difficult time of COVID-19. This is a normal way of reacting to a very abnormal situation. But, for some people, the worry, stress and fear can become too much. When is worry ‘just normal’ and when is it ‘too much’? Here are some pointers of how you can tell if you are worrying too much!

Messages for Mothers have been developed by a collective of individuals and organisations working together to create and curate simple content that answers the questions mothers have about #COVID19 and its effect on the physical and mental well-being of themselves and their families.

Managing family violence during #COVID19

It’s Day 5 of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week and we are focusing today on

Managing family violence during #COVID19

Being at home during COVID-19 can result in an increase in violence towards women and children. During the COVID-19 pandemic, women in abusive relationships are at greater risk of experiencing violence. Throughout the day we will share some tips for coping if this applies to you!

Messages for Mothers have been developed by a collective of individuals and organisations working together to create and curate simple content that answers the questions mothers have about #COVID19 and its effect on the physical and mental well-being of themselves and their families.

Messages for Mothers during #MMHweek

It’s Day 4 of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week and we are focusing today on

How do you know if you are depressed?

It is normal to be worried during this difficult time of #COVID19. Sometimes the worry or stress can lead to depression. But how will you know you are depressed? Throughout the day we will post some things to look out for!

Messages for Mothers have been developed by a collective of individuals and organisations working together to create and curate simple content that answers the questions mothers have about #COVID19 and its effect on the physical and mental well-being of themselves and their families.

Messages for Mothers on World Maternal Mental Health Day

Today is World Maternal Mental Health Day and day three of maternal Mental Health Awareness week in many countries around the world!

This is a great time to raise awareness of mental health problems during and after pregnancy, advocating for mothers affected by perinatal mental health problems and talk about why #maternalMHmatters.

Messages for Mothers have been developed by a collective of individuals and organisations working together to create and curate simple content that answers the questions mothers have about #COVID19 and its effect on the physical and mental well-being of themselves and their families.

Today our focus is on ‘Managing stress as a mother during #COVID19’

World Maternal Mental Health Day in times of a pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic represents a time of great uncertainty. Many of us are anxious – for our children, our families, for ourselves and for our future.

In response, we have developed #MessagesForMothers together with a growing collective of mother-supporting organisations and individuals working together to create and curate simple content that answers the questions mothers have about #COVID19.

During #WMMHday2020 we will publish #MessagesForMothers on key mental health areas. These were created in consultation with a psychologist and psychiatrist working in the public health sector in South Africa.

Our mental health messages are designed for South African mothers. They may be helpful for care providers, family members and health workers in contact with mothers at this time.

The first set of #maternalMHmatters messages will guide you through:

7 ways to manage depression, anxiety or addictions during #COVID19


Messages for Mothers – PMHP response to COVID-19

The Coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) represents a time of great uncertainty. Many of us are anxious – for our children, our families, ourselves, our country and our future.

At the PMHP, we recognise that mothers, at this time, are particularly vulnerable to mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety as well as domestic violence and food insecurity.

Our small team is responding, in collaboration with a wonderful virtual network of colleagues and supporters. We currently are working round the clock on three approaches.

The PMHP Mother-Baby Support Group in Hanover Park

By Thanya April

I work at the Perinatal Mental Health Project (PMHP) as  Office Administrator. I am also a part-time student, completing my Psychology degree at the South African College of Applied Psychology. A requirement of this degree is a work-integrated learning component. In order to fulfil this, I started my first Mother-Baby support group in Hanover Park, which is also the clinical service site of the PMHP.

Before designing the programme for the group, I conducted a Needs Assessment with mother’s attending the postnatal clinic in the Hanover Park Community Health Centre. All participants reported that they had a good relationship with their baby and most of them were still breastfeeding. All participants felt that women would be interested in joining a Mother-Baby support group, but the consensus among most of the women was that an incentive was needed to motivate women to attend the support group. When asked about deterrents to attending the support group, the responses included lack of money, no transport and gang violence in the area.

When one participant suggested that women would only join a Mother-Baby support group if what they were getting out of it, was much more than what they had to give, I was disheartened. It seemed unlikely that I would be able to provide such an incentive, worthy enough for women to offer up their time.

Relevant research pertaining to postnatal support in low-income-settings, as well as interactions with various stakeholders, informed the programme design for the Mother-Baby support group.

Four women were recruited and joined the group. These women were clients who had received individual counselling from the PMHP, which meant that they had, on a previous occasion, screened positive for depression and/or anxiety during their pregnancy. The programme for session 1 included a discussion on gossip. Gossip in Hanover Park emerged as a central theme in the research of Rose Davidson, medical anthropology student who conducted her Master’s research with PMHP.  Her dissertation was  entitled “Gossip, Judgement and Trust: Contextualising Women’s Engagement With An Antenatal Mental Health Service in Cape Town, South Africa”. Rose’s findings were crucial to understanding the effects that gossip has in creating mistrust and in hindering access to support in vulnerable communities.

By discussing this topic, all women in the group became aware that they had similar fears about gossip. These women had isolated themselves because of these fears and all of them reported that they did not have friends because of this. When they shared their own experiences, it united them in a way they did not expect. Throughout the course of the 2-hour session, the women grew closer and were able to open up about their birthing experiences and found comfort in each other’s descriptions about what postnatal depression felt like.

I created a Whatsapp group to communicate about logistical issues. The women used this platform to keep in touch and when one mother could not afford the travelling fare to attend the second session, the women rallied together and offered to pay for her transport.

On the last session, when the women received their baby hampers and baby albums, they expressed great appreciation. However, I got the sense that the incentive they were most appreciative of was the support received and the friendships gained within the group.

The women were grateful for the group setting and easily started making plans with each other for the festive season. They were proud that they were the very first group and insisted on having one last session early next year. Under the PMHP, we hope to continue to conduct further groups next year to create support among postnatal women and foster friendships in a community that has many obstacles to this form of healthy social connection.










Disclaimer: Written consent has been obtained from all women participating in this group to use pictures of themselves and their babies.
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