Creative Learners

Creative Learners
Learning Brief

Anna Foundation

Helping rural farm teens understand alternatives to suicide

Category: Creative Learners | Education system improvement | 11 May, 2013 - 19:12


Project context

After 3 years of intensely working in rural farming communities in South Africa, we are gaining a better understanding of, and reason for, some of the challenges facing the teenagers and young people participating in our programmes. This learning brief highlights our experience with recent teen-suicides, and helping teens identify alternative ways to deal with their anger and loss of hope.

Increase in teen-suicides

We have recently been exposed to a sudden episode of teenage suicides in the rural communities were we work. Looking into this matter, we found other examples of teenage suicide and discovered that this was most common amongst young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Why teens attempt suicide

Through counselling sessions with teenagers, we aimed to determine the reasons for these suicide attempts. Every youngster we spoke to said, without hesitation, that they get angry very often. In many instances this anger leads them to engage in socially unacceptable conduct. We feel that we can ‘understand’ their inability to express anger in a healthy and reasonable way because the social context in which they grow up continuously shows them that the solution to anger is to lash out with violence. Suicide is a violent act and often a last resort when angry, frustrated youngsters feel they have no outlet for their emotions.

Teen anger and lack of self-worth

Youngsters in these communities do not speak to a parent or care giver about how they feel. In a survey we conducted with these farm children, the vast majority confirmed their inability to talk about their emotions, saying that they “had many mixed feelings and thoughts in their head”. Sadly many of the teens we surveyed were unsure if their parents loved them or thought they were important.

Another great concern is the youngsters’ lack of self worth and inability to understand the concept of self worth. They lack understanding of what it means to “feel good about oneself” and often equate it with being self centred or egotistical. It is concerning that parents are not reinforcing the self worth of their children. It is also understandable that adults who themselves were not raised in a reinforcing, loving environment are ignorant to the importance of this vital parental duty.

Providing appropriate intervention

This matter requires on-going intervention for these teens – over time and in a safe space. We must offer support through programmes that operate regularly, within the communities where the teens live, and that employ adults to whom the teens can trust and can relate.

For us at the Anna Foundation, this also means finding a tool that can provide these teens with the coping mechanisms to deal with their daily challenges. Although we cannot take the children out of their circumstances, we can equip them with skills to deal with these circumstances in the most positive and productive way possible.

One of our strategies is a drama programme that helps teach teens the skills of active communication, problem solving, and creative expression. We teach the teens to be able to communicate their problem effectively, find solutions to their problems, and think creatively about the problem. Through drama performace and games we also teach them to concentrate and focus on one or two issues, rather than get distracted or overwhelmed by many concerns. This programme is a “work in process” and will continue to be developed as we slowly gain more and more insight into the matter of helping farm teens find alternatives to suicide.

We are also continuously reminded that in working with children and teens, we must also work with communities and the parents of the children. Parents need to be empowered so that they are able to understand their own valuable role in building their children’s self esteem.

Finally, organisations working with children that are unable to assist parents, or that do not specialise in adult support (as in our case), should partner with other organisations that do specialise in this field. In this way organisations can tackle teen suicide together by targeting teens and their parents and uplifting the entire community.


Anna Foundation

P O Box 2229 Dennisig Stellenbosch

In Short

This learning brief identifies how rural teens struggling with anger and low self worth lack appropriate avenues for expressing their frustration and thus resort to suicide. The Anna Foundation suggests that community organisations can start drama programmes where teens learn about effective communication, problem identification and creative solution mechanisms, and find out about alternatives to suicide.

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