“My mindset changed and I am a freed man”

Sonke is grateful for the wonderful team of interns, volunteers and project partners who build our capacity and add value to our work on an ongoing basis. Too often we don’t take the time to stop and reflect on what motivates these passionate people to commit their time and energy to join us in our efforts to prevent gender-based violence and the spread of HIV.

We recently asked some of the individuals we work with how Sonke has touched their lives and what they perceive the value of the organisation to be. We interviewed volunteers, research associates and developers of advocacy and awareness projects…

Theo Vuyo’s face is very familiar in the Cape Town office where he is a One Man Can volunteer. In March 2009, Theo attended an OMC workshop in Athlone and was impressed by the fact that men in his community were embracing women’s rights and recognising the need for men to help prevent violence against women and children.

“My mindset has changed and I am a freed man… I now listen and respect my partner and treat her without any discrimination because of her gender. I am proud of this because my life is transformed for a better and manageable lifestyle… I am also able to stand and educate other men about gender issues because of the information and skills I have gained from Sonke.”

Now a self-proclaimed gender activist, Theo works with Sonke to conduct OMC training and activities in other communities, and has taking on the role of facilitator and motivational speaker amongst his peers. “I want to be a loving, caring and responsible man. I want to engage men so as to challenge our mindset for the better.”

Saint Expedit Lhamann Ondzongo has also started working closely with Sonke staff after his participation in One Man Can. Ondzongo comes from Congo Brazzaville and attended a One Man Can workshop arranged by the Refugee Health and Rights project. Having always been an advocate for human rights, Ondzongo was excited to learn how men and boys can play an active role in promoting gender equality and supporting people with HIV. He was able to immediately put his new knowledge into practice by supporting an HIV positive neighbour to access healthcare: “If it had not been for the training I received from Sonke, I don’t think I would have been in a position to support her as much as I have, especially due to the nature of her disease.”

Ondzongo is now a member of the local Community Action Team, and works with Sonke staff to arrange and facilitate activities in his community which challenge male stereotypes and educate community members about rights. “My fellow countrymen, friends, neighbours and classmates tend to look down upon women. I have since been interacting with them, hoping through these interactions I am changing their perceptions on women.”

The experiences reflected by Theo and Ondzongo are shared by many of the men and boys who participate in our programmes. Shari Dworkin, a research partner from the University of California at San Francisco, notes that “men who participate in … [the One Man Can] campaign articulate changes in their definition of what constitutes a real man–in their sense of themselves as men–and they find solace, social support, and strength from other men as they formulate new configurations of masculinity.”

Thank you to all the participants, volunteers, interns and partners who have helped to make One Man Can a success so far (and of course to our donors!). We look forward to continue working with you all to strengthen the campaign and extend its reach to more men in South Africa and other countries on the continent.

You can read the full interviews conducted with these and other Sonke supporters here: