Local Heroes 2022: Trevor Willard and Open Hands a safe haven for abused and neglected men
Retiree Trevor Willard, 62, keeps a file of letters from men his organisation has helped pull back from the brink of despair .
These are not simply words of thanks, but detailed descriptions of the action taken by Willard and his NPO, Open Hands, from men who now have jobs, rekindled family relationships and renewed faith in living.
One of the letters was written by an ex-addict who recently got married and found a job.
He wrote: “If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
As one of the Daily Dispatch and Johnson & Johnson Local Hero winner for 2022, Willard said he was shocked to have won and had not expected the recognition.
“This means so much for the NPO. I was surprised because since the first story there were so many nominees in the newspaper. I didn't think we would get this far.”
Willard retired from the Umtiza Farm Corporation and volunteered at the Christelike Maatskaplike Raad of East London, an established social services organisation that works with women and children in Southernwood. It opened Open Hands in 2019.
“Who looks after men and assists them when they are at rock bottom? I researched and found that there aren’t people who do this, so decided I was going to give it a try.”
Men are always too scared to come out and tell people about being battered or losing their jobs. Men feel they cannot tell people but in reality, they are also abused but always get left on the sidelines.
An abandoned house in Selbourne, which was empty for over 18 months has been transformed into a halfway home for 15 men to receive counselling, and spiritual guidance as a safe space to recover.
“Men are always too scared to come out and tell people about being battered or losing their jobs. Men feel they cannot tell people but in reality, they are also abused but always get left on the sidelines.”
Willard said the quaint white house assisted 30 people a month with 28 in the halfway house and did not discriminate against race, sexuality, or circumstance.
“Once you have had a counselling session and you sit and talk you find out what their problems are. The ultimate thing is when they leave the house and are back with their lives and families — seeing we have done some good.
“It's crazy one mother called and said her son was released in Komani and still needs assistance so I've taken him in and I'm trying my best to help wherever I can.”
Open Hands works closely with Masithethe, a counselling service organisation, to help men cope with their mental health. Many suffer from depression and substance abuse. The men have a private session with a Masithethe counsellor once a week and a live-in counsellor lives at the home as a voice of healing.
The SA Depression and Anxiety Group has stated that SA men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women.
“It’s been a hard road with hardly any subsidy. The government doesn't give us financial support. The only assistance we get are donations and a small amount from the Lotto. We house 10 men at a time, but will be moving to larger premises soon where we will be able to take in more.”
Willard said: “I personally know three people who shot themselves after they lost their jobs or partners and didn't know where to turn.
“They feel there is no hope and don’t know what to do. They don’t see a way out of the stress, so they take to substances or think about committing suicide.”
For many years it’s been that men are big and strong and don’t cry. But men can cry and can get knocked down and can get back on their own two feet again.
But Willard knows there is a way you can pick yourself up and take the slow journey back.
“For many years it’s been that men are big and strong and don’t cry. But men can cry and can get knocked down and can get back on their own two feet again.”
Four male staff volunteers run the centre, but Willard said each occupant was responsible for his own living area and domestic duties such as sweeping and linen.
Nominee Zandra de Beer Wild said: “Open Hands is for abused men in East London. It works towards providing a safe place to stay, feeding the abused men, and trying to re-establish them in society again.”
Willard said he had not expected to be chosen as a 2022 Local Hero winner but was overjoyed.
With the Local Hero winnings, the centre would hopefully be able to open up a skills room alongside its offices in Jarvis Road.
“We want to buy a prefab temporary classroom and make it a counselling and skills room. We've had a computer donated and old gym equipment and want to set up a woodworking station.”
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