[notice]Gateway News reporter SINAZO MTSHENGU recently chatted to Wendy Heasley, director of Alternatives pregnancy crisis centre in Port Elizabeth, about the challenge of reaching out to women who don’t want to come in for help.[/notice]
When I first walked into the centre in busy Westbourne Road I was charmed by its homey feel. It makes you feel welcome and the staff are very friendly and ready to help young women make informed decisions about crisis pregnancies. Alternatives is Christian-based but support is not limited to Christians; the doors are open to every young woman who needs help. Services offered include crisis pregnancy counselling, pre and post abortion counselling, community education and awareness, and pregnancy testing. The slogan of the centre captures its heart exactly: Care, Truth and Compassion. Caring for the women who come. Sharing the truth about pregnancy. And providing compassionate, non-judgmental support that will continue to be offered no matter what the women decide to do.
So why are women not coming to the centre in numbers? There is no shortage of desperate women dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Alternatives is even situated in an area where many young women live, work and study.
Heasley, who established Alternatives in 1997, the year that abortion-on-demand was legalised in South Africa, says the number of girls who come through the doors is not the number they would like to see. There are three or less girls a day; about 30 girls a month. The young women who do come are between the ages of 19 and 30 with 80% being students, from urban areas. Some of them come with a friend or boyfriend. Most of the girls who come back to the centre, are those who decide to keep their babies and they return for practical support.
Quick-fix abortion culture
The big problem says Heasley is the quick-fix abortion culture in the city. In addition to legal abortion avenues there are many illegal abortion clinics. The easy abortion options are actively promoted, encouraged and shared on social media. Centres like Alternatives that suggest options that offer hope for unborn babies are isolated voices. Girls in trouble are not looking for people to convince them to keep unwanted babies. And they simply don’t want to come in for one-on-one sessions.
And so Heasley, who last year returned to the helm of the centre after some years living overseas, has started taking the message of Alternatives more intentionally to the community rather than waiting for girls to come in for counselling.
The message is spread through a number of awareness programmes shared at expos, schools, universities and other available locations and through media such as pamphlets. Awareness and support programmes offered include:
- Sexual integrity workshops
- Life skills education
- Training and equipping volunteers
- Community education and awareness. Support groups (single parents, teen pregnancy, domestic violence)
- The centre runs a moms’ group once a month as part of the support groups.
The community outreach thrust has been boosted with the appointment of a social worker, Carrie Bowen.
Heasley invites members of the public to get involved in its initiatives, either by inviting them to speak at any awareness events, or by volunteering to join the Alternatives team.
The centre currently has seven trained volunteers. Volunteers are called friendly strangers and are required to be Christian. People who want to volunteer can just call or email Heasley (041 373 3717 / firstname.lastname@example.org) and they will be told when the next training will be. Thereafter they will undergo on-the-job training. Areas in which volunteers can serve are fundraising, post abortion counseling, crisis pregnancy counselling and social work.
In the next five years, Heasley would like to see growth in the volunteer base and in awareness and use of the centre’s services. Alternatives collaborates with two other pregnancy crisis centres – “Heart” with Joy To The Nations, in Walmer, PE and NewLife Crisis Pregnancy Centre in Uitenhage. They do not do HIV testing but work with other NGOs that perform tests that they don’t.
Alternatives can be found at 34 Westbourne Rd Central PE. Contact them 041-373 3717