Written by Sharon Boyce, Founder Trustee
Photography credit to Bram Lammers, Jacky du Plessis and Sharon Boyce
The majestic horses of Shumbashaba have an important purpose in life: they help people to reach their potential as spiritual, physical and emotional beings. Horses remind us that there are consequences to our actions and attitudes, and they’re a kind of “emotional mirror” – they respond to how you feel, both good or bad, and help you identify and work on your emotions.
They’re also the stars of a far-reaching, highly successful organisation – the Shumbashaba Community Trust – which helps the people of the severely impoverished community of Diepsloot, Johannesburg.
“When I change, you change, and the world changes with us.”
Shumbashaba, meaning “Lion of the Nation”, is located on a smallholding not far from Diepsloot. Founder Sharon Boyce, a licensed counselling psychologist and human rights activist specialising in people with disabilities, has made it her life’s work to facilitate opportunities for people to come together with horses in therapeutic contexts. She’s combined her lifelong passion for horses and equestrian sports and a plethora of both equestrian and human therapeutic coaching qualifications in order to successfully change people’s lives with the help of horses.
In 2012, Shumbashaba transitioned from an equine-assisted therapy programme into the powerful non-profit organisation of the Shumbashaba Community Trust.
Although often seen as just a “riding for the disabled” establishment or a horse rescue facility, there’s so much more to this incredible organisation. A host of services for both able-bodied people and those with disabilities are on offer, and the impact of its programmes in promoting physical and psychological well-being in the nearby communities is immeasurable.
Feedback from programme participants indicates that they come to Shumbashaba to be close to nature and the animals, and in this environment they feel cared for, safe and happy. This is reflected in the name they gave to the main riding arena, “Asijabuleni”, which means “here we are happy”.
The Shumbashaba Community Trust has truly embraced the broader reach of Shumbashaba beyond being simply a “horse programme” to being a “nature-based community impact organisation” with far-reaching effects.
Values and mission
Shumbashaba is driven by its clear mission statement: Shumbashaba incorporates nature and animals as a way of helping vulnerable children and adults develop self-worth, gain life skills and the sense of empowerment needed to build a hopeful future.
This is supported by their impact statement that Shumbashaba develops people to realise their unique worth and personal power. This fosters hope in homes and communities, allowing people to build meaningful and purposeful futures.
Their values are clear, and they aim to embody these at all times:
- Respect – for self, others, animals and environment.
- Love – care, compassion, kindness and empathy for all people, animals and the planet.
- Integrity – doing what matters aligned to conscience.
- Hope – ability to set goals and motivated to find ways to achieve these goals; and trust in positive outcomes, especially in difficult life situations that cannot be controlled.
- Courage – to do what it takes to make meaningful change, especially in the face of difficult situations.
- Accountability – owning own actions despite the outcomes.
- Commitment to lifelong learning
IMPACTING COMMUNITIES IN NEED
The impact of Shumbashaba’s award-winning services is felt in both privileged and under-resourced communities, particularly Diepsloot. This sprawling township of some half-a-million people is characterised by a majority population of youth who experience high levels of unemployment, poverty, crime, substance abuse, as well as child abuse and gender-based violence on a daily basis.
Formal education and skills training are essential to lift people out of poverty, but none of this is possible if they don’t have a positive sense of self. The focus of the Shumbashaba Community Trust is to support people to reach their full potential as physical, spiritual and emotional beings.
The funding and support we receive plays a significant role in ensuring that Shumbashaba can continue the public benefit activities which help over 600 vulnerable people, including children, at-risk youth, women, families, and people with disabilities. The ripple effect in the community is far wider.
Just one example is two young men (Siphamandla Moyo and Justice Ratau) who represented South Africa in the Junior World Vaulting Championships in Austria during 2017. They were Shumbashaba “alumni” who not only made it to the championships but also completed Matric and are pursuing tertiary studies.
One cannot learn and grow on an empty stomach, so we started a feeding scheme. We’re extremely grateful to the ACT Foundation South Africa for providing both the groceries and cooking training to programme leaders, and to Woodlands Engen Woolworths Food store for the generous twice-weekly donation of food. We’re proud that, in 2019 alone, 12,480 meals were cooked and served.
Shumbashaba’s services are underpinned by three pillars: therapy, learning, and sport and recreation.
Therapeutic services are aimed at preventing and treating mental illness and promoting mental health. In addition to traditional psychological services, horses are incorporated into mental health treatment using the EAGALA Model (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association), an innovative, ethical set of global best practices for equine-assisted therapy. It builds on the human-horse connection to help people learn more about themselves and to use that learning to change their lives.
Participants in our sessions say that the horses themselves are experienced as effective teachers of positive life values.
We’re fortunate to have the services of highly skilled psychologists and counsellors, and we partner with various non-governmental and non-profit organisations, including Lawyers Against Abuse, the S.A. National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependency (SANCA), the S.A. Depression & Anxiety Group (SADAG), and the Diepsloot Local Drug Action Committee.
Shumbashaba’s signature group therapy programme, “Growing Great Generations”, was offered, pro bono, to hundreds of primary and high school learners in Diepsloot, although it was suspended in 2019 due to limited resources. We also initiated a Stress and Compassion Fatigue Alleviation group therapy process for medical staff at Rahima Moosa Hospital.
Mainly focusing on group therapy, Shumbashaba has recently introduced individual therapy options, and we hope to soon have a drop-in centre.
What some participants have to say:
- “I have learnt about hope, because hoping for something is good.”
- “I learned how to respect myself and to respect others.”
- “The black horse taught me to be patient, not to give up so easily, and the white one taught me about respect and being different.”
Shumbashaba emphasises the value of learning through play and “doing”. Programmes are facilitated through both through EAGALA and by using experiential and non-traditional methods for promoting and maximising learning.
Personal development, life skills and informal academic needs of the participants are addressed, and the focus is on non-violent communication, moral regeneration, respect, positive problem-solving and adaptive coping skills, as well as the identification of strengths and talents.
Most programmes occur under the umbrella of the Shumbashaba Youth Development Programme. On Saturdays, what started as an equestrian vaulting programme has grown into a community youth development programme. This provides a safe space off the streets of Diepsloot for learning both life skills and caring for animals and the environment and allows early intervention to prevent substance abuse and crime. During the July school holidays, we host a three-day winter holiday programme and, as of 2018, a community-led talent show called Diepsloot’s Got Talent.
The best part is that it’s truly a community programme, because it involves people from Diepsloot being trained into leadership roles. They volunteer for at least three months, being trained in communication skills and child-management principles.
Of course, the horses are still an important part of Shumbashaba. We continue to run therapeutic riding programmes for people with disabilities and a Horse Appreciation programme for those who want to learn horse-riding skills. Although we had to suspend the original vaulting programme due to lack of resources (both financial and coaching), we hope to reinstitute this as it’s so helpful – it’s this very programme that started Siphamandla and Justice on their road to the championships.
Sport and Recreation
Physical well-being is also essential to mental health. Sport offers the opportunity to increase physical fitness and literacy, in addition to learning important life skills relating to team work, problem-solving, and managing emotions and behaviours related to winning and losing.
Shumbashaba offers a number of different sports programmes, both horse-related and “mainstream”. Therapeutic and adaptive riding programmes help people with special needs and disabilities learn to ride a horse, whilst benefitting from the physical, emotional and behavioural benefits of horse riding in a specifically structured environment.
Youth development riding programmes provide opportunities for children and youth from nearby underprivileged communities to learn horsemanship and riding skills, as well as non-horse-related sports programmes such as soccer and cricket, and we collaborate with the Special Olympics.
A BEACON OF HOPE
We are proud that, through ongoing commitment to collaboration, valuing and fostering community relationships and hard work, Shumbashaba is able to be a beacon of hope for many.
Shumbashaba wants to be in a sustainable position to be able to respond to the communities’ calls for help. We dream of identifying funding partners who share the desire to respond and develop a specific fund that would provide access to psychological services for those who experienced mental health challenges, as well as for survivors of trauma, who cannot afford psychological services.