Jonathan Morgan, South Africa
Michael White (and David Epston’s) work formed the basis of the ‘hero book’ which is literally a physical ‘hard copy’ re-authored life story document fashioned and crafted together with paper, string, and ink. In the African context, this work is at an exciting phase. Rather than hero books happening only in small isolated groups (such as kids clubs, support groups, and so on), in three countries (South Africa, Uganda, and Tanzania), under the leadership of REPSSI, work is underway in partnership with national and provincial ministries of education, to mainstream psychosocial support into the national curricula and syllabi whereby pupils in the classroom, during school time, make their own hero books over one or two terms in the academic year.
For the teacher, this is not an added duty or responsibility, where they are being asked to become counsellors on top of heavy teaching loads; rather, they are pursuing curricula-based learning outcomes around literacy, first and second language acquisition, knowledge in the social sciences, life skills, and so on. Any improvements in the child’s psychosocial wellbeing can be seen as a kind of bonus. Via this mainstreaming approach and in collaboration with governments, this has the potential to reach literally millions of children.
I think Michael would have been interested to witness this development. I think he would have enjoyed seeing children with hero books written in Swahili, Zulu, Nepalese, Arabic, and more – especially the pages in which the children draw their wishes and goals, as well as the named externalised obstacles that stand in the way of these goals, and the pages entitled ‘Club of life’, ‘Tricks and tactics’ and ‘Re-membering party’. I can also imagine his ‘metapresence’ hovering beside a teacher in one of these countries, observing how the process facilitates tremendous expressions of peer support (children involved in tellings and retellings). I can also imagine the bemused expression on Michael’s face when the inspector comes in to the classroom and asks the teacher ‘Why are you doing this “narrative stuff” and not following the syllabus?’ and the teacher takes out a file entitled, for example, ‘Curricula-Aligned Hero Book Teacher Guide, Grade 5, Kiswahili, Tanzania, 2010’ and points to the precise curricula-based learning outcomes and assessment standards for that particular lesson.
In the next few years, we expect to see this now evidence-based approach adapted and extended to reach other countries in the world, beginning with the remaining 10 of the 13 countries in which REPSSI operates in southern and east Africa.