In South Africa the magnitude of poverty and the number of vulnerable individuals within the population calls for comprehensive strategies to support individuals at all levels. One possible way of supporting vulnerable people may be through participatory research with community volunteers who are willing to support others in need. This study forms part of a longitudinal project that has been ongoing since 2003 (STAR, Supportive Teachers, Assets and Resilience), focusing on the role that schools and teachers may fulfil in psycho-socially supporting vulnerable communities, thereby enhancing resilience. Following the progress and outcome of STAR, the STAR intervention was adapted in 2011 for use with community volunteers. As an outcome, the SHEBA (Supporting Home Environments in Beating Adversity) intervention was implemented with community volunteers during 2012 and 2013.
As such, my study is conceptualised against the background of the STAR and SHEBA projects. As part of the broad SHEBA project (Ferreira & Ebersöhn) I specifically focused on how community volunteers may implement the skill of memory work in supporting clients facing poverty-related adversity. I employed an intervention design applying Participatory Reflection and Action (PRA) principles. For data collection and documentation, I utilised PRA-based workshops, individual interviews, observation, field notes, a research diary and audio-visual techniques. I selected interpretivism as meta-theory and relied on the asset-based approach as theoretical framework. Thirty-eight community volunteers participated in my study. Following thematic inductive analysis, three themes emerged, relating to the cases with which community volunteers utilised memory work; the benefits community volunteers experienced and reported on, also on behalf of their clients; and the challenges community volunteers experienced when utilising memory work with clients facing poverty-related adversity. Based on the findings of the study, I can conclude that memory work can successfully be used by community volunteers with clients in poverty contexts. Despite certain challenges and myths that need to be addressed, community volunteers may feel equipped to facilitate change when applying memory work as activity with vulnerable individuals, thereby empowering them to deal with challenges by relying on existing assets and resources. Subsequently, both community volunteers and vulnerable clients can benefit by of utilising memory work as a supportive technique or potential therapeutic tool.