Original Articles

The use of rites of passage in strengthening the psychosocial wellbeing of orphaned children in Botswana


Children who have been bereaved in the context of AIDS may experience many challenges to their psychosocial wellbeing. Programmes to help orphaned children are usually anchored in child rights. As the individual focus of rights-based approaches is inept in African collectivist culture, NGOs tend to make use of group approaches in psychosocial support programmes. One orphan-strengthening programme in Botswana, called the Ark for Children, uses rites of passage and rites of affirmation as part of a therapeutic retreat. This study explored how rites of passage and rites of affirmation contribute to psychosocial strengthening of orphaned children in Botswana. Ten orphaned children were involved in five rounds of data collection during a 16-day therapeutic retreat; and eight social workers answered questions on the effectiveness of the therapy. A supplementary document analysis was also completed, which included retreat reports since 2001 and correspondence from community-based support workers and graduates of the programme. Participants reported that the rites used during the retreat helped them to commit to therapeutic transformation. During a retreat, all the participants witness and support each individual going through each rite — a process reported to foster and strengthen group formation. It was documented that the symbols used as part of the themed rites of affirmation are used by participants for years afterwards as reminders of their transformation and commitment to the group. We conclude that rites of passage can provide a powerful tool to help children commit to therapeutic transformation, build the supportive group, and enable the community to recognise and affirm that the children return as changed individuals and members of the group.

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