When you enter the student tea room at Bergzicht Training and Development, one of the first things you will spot is volunteer and qualified social worker Annette Scott’s yellow, tin teabag holder. It has been nicknamed the Chatterbox, because this is exactly what it does. It allows students struggling with various challenges in their lives to connect with Annette for emotional support in an unobtrusive manner and talk to her about these difficulties.

On the tin, Annette has placed her name with a short message to explain that students who leave their contact details in this box will be able to receive free, emotional support by doing so.

“The Chatterbox allows students to remain anonymous and to not feel exposed when seeking support,” explains Annette.

She visits Bergzicht’s offices nearly every day of the week and once she has cleared out all the names with contact numbers, she calls each student to schedule an appointment.
In 2015 alone, she assisted 13 individuals and followed up on 5 cases while also referring a few students to Good Hope Psychology Services at Stellenbosch Hospital.

“Many of the students that I see come from broken homes where there is also neglect, while some live in environments where there is a complete lack of a support structure and where drug and child abuse have taken place or is still taking place. Others are rape survivors or carry huge financial burdens with many also bearing the added responsibility of taking care of family members.”

With these pressures, students are often unable to fully apply themselves to their studies, says Annette.

“There is therefore a need for beneficiaries to vent, to share their problems with someone who will listen, but who also cares about their well-being, to feel accepted for who they are without being judged, to feel appreciated and loved, and to be encouraged to further their career and start anew.”

This support entails, for example, sharing a cup of tea with a student while asking them about their day, while at other times Annette has coaxed students out of the bathroom who may have walked out of a classroom when asked to perform a task they struggle with.

“By talking to that student and encouraging her to go back to the class and to tell the teacher, sorry, my nerves just got the better of me, but can I do it next time, you teach that student another coping mechanism other than the one they have always used, which is to run away.”

The support she provides does not only extend to current Bergzicht students and their families. She has also been drawn in at times to assist prospective students who are still on Bergzicht’s waiting list.

Asked about why she chose to volunteer at Bergzicht specifically, she says: “Every student that comes here has their own specific challenges and while there are tears and hardships, these students are diehards, they don’t give up and I would like to be there to offer them that safety net so that they do not quit when times are hard.”

When Annette points to the latest statistics in the report placed on the coffee table where she is seated, it is comes as no surprise that her report would conclude with the words: “It’s not what you gather, but what you scatter.”

Photo: Annette Scott (right) discusses future plans regarding emotional support for students at Bergzicht with Dr Hannes Koornhof who joined the Bergzicht Board last year. (Lynne Rippenaar-Moses)