Connecting local responses around the world
Sanja Bornmann, Programme Officer for ACESS, shares a
personal reflection about her motivation to defend human rights.
This is a story about conducting our work in accordance with the values of respect for the human dignity of all those around us, and connecting with people on a personal level.
At ACESS we have a hotline. The hotline is for people with problems relating to the socio-economic rights of children, and I often take the various calls coming in about everything from school fees to child support grants. Desperate people seeking advice call this line on an almost daily basis.
Before, when I worked as an attorney, the help I could give depended on how much my client could pay me. This often made me feel like I was sending my clients the message, “Your problem, regardless of how big or small, is not worthy of proper attention. Not having enough money to pay me, makes you unworthy of assistance.”
Now, as an ACESS staff member, what I love most about taking hotline calls is the freedom to act immediately to resolve whatever difficulty is being reported. I can call complainants back if they do not have enough airtime to talk on the phone for long. I can listen to their story for as long as is necessary – not just for as long as they can afford. I can put their minds immediately at ease and I am free to take the time and whatever steps necessary to assist people. Sometimes this entails writing lengthy letters to provincial departments. Sometimes it means calling a school principal directly and mediating conflicts. It almost always involves several phone calls, and I have even had complainants’ attorneys call us for advice, so that they may assist the complainant more effectively. Often I lose a whole work day to one complaint, but at ACESS it’s so important to help that I see “losing” time to the hotline as a measure of our success.
It is a privilege to be able to provide a personal service for desperate people who would ordinarily have no recourse to advice or paralegal assistance, simply due to their economic circumstances. It is a privilege to be able to call them by their names, and have them call me by mine, and to know that before a particular day is over, their lives will be that tiny bit better because ACESS listened and acted.
* This story is shared as an outcome of a partnership between The Constellation and Cordaid to capture good practise and experience from Cordaid's South African partners. For the full ACESS partner profile and reflections on video, see https://aidscompetence.ning.com/group/cordaidpartnerssouthafrica *