Helenvale Poets

The Helenvale Poets project mentors aspirant writers, some of whom have gained experience, and who themselves have become published mentors. We work on the writing process, from free writing to publication and reading, assisting writers to develop writing and editing skills, and to find thier own voice. Writing refelects on place and on being, on contrast, reality and dreams. The Helenvale community has soci-economic challenges, extending to drug use, gansterism and violence. Our NPO, SADRAT, seeks to develop communities, and instill human values and peace. Poetry, and the reflection it provides, enables this, as well as related skills development.

What skills and resources were you able to draw from the community for this project?

We seek to train our writers to become writing advocates and mentors themselves, and have achieved this in a number of cases. Leonie Williams is our most successful member, and has continued working and stepping into the role of advocate, even after the unfortunate death of our other succesful member, Byron Armoed, a victim of violence in the community. Margaret Armoed, Byron's mother, has used the group as a way of giving back, and for her own therapy, joining after the loss of Byron, and is working on a more complete collection. These adults from the community, amongst others, give a solidity to the group, and become role-models to the younger writers. We have also had community support from the parents of our younger writers, two of whom sit on our steering committee. We also draw on parental help to keep the attendance good, to support our outings and to raise funds. We have received assistance from the local schools, particularly the Helenvale Primary School, with whom we have partnered, and who provide a space for our operations.

The challenges

Violence and social decay influence the ability to reflect and seek alternatives to a life-situation that limits personal and community choice. Through poetry, participants reflect on current realities, as well as on visions of alternatives. These alternatives emerge in discussion, dreams, and visits to other areas, through growth and education. The project seeks to encourage, through the writing process, reflection and a sense of possibility, and to provide the writing and communication skills to find a voice and seek personal development. The writing project also seeks to provide alternatives to the destructive lifestyles and choices commonly available in the community, and further afield in the Metro. Reading is often cited as a problem in schools. Writing, perhaps a bigger problem, is neglected as an educational skill, yet is is essential for development of an individual, and for assessment in education and training. The project seeks to encourage writing (and reading), and teach the associated skills: free-writing, jotting, note-making, editing, proof-reading, computer work. The project, seeks, furthermore to break down stereotypes, enabling participants to meet members of other communities, finding a common humanity, and also -- importantly -- to project through poetry Helenvale as a place of humanity, where good humans live.

Addressing the challenges

Our project has been on-going for 8 years, continuously. We have keept continuity through periods of no funding, and have found a physical home through our partnership with the Helenvale Primary School, where we rent space. Writing skills are best aquired over time, and we wish to keep each participant in the project for at least 5 years. After that period participants begin to develop the requisite writing skills within themselves, and can become independent writers. Two of our writers have produced full length individual books of poems, published by the project: these are the late Byron Armoed, and our current volunteer mentor and facilitator, Leonie Williams. Another writer has self published a novel outside of (but assisted by) the project.

The achievements

We have published seven full-length books in the project, which we sell to raise funds. We have done various local readings, but have also appeared at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda, and have attended the McGregor Poetry Festival in the Western Cape. The 2019 trip is our third visit to the festival. This is a space both for our participants and for our mentors, and is also a space for networking and for gettng the project and its poets more widely known. Two of our poets were selected through partners of the Southern African Development, Research and Training Institute (SADRAT), our home NPO, to participate in the Ubuntu Youth Exchange, which enabled them to travel with a group of young people to participate in a programme in Oldenburg, Germany. We have just started a fund-raising campaign called Helenvale Poets Five to France, responding to an invitation to bring five of our poets to France in 2020, details of which are on our Facebook page.