How my childhood trauma led to vision of foundation three decades later.
Updated: Jul 7, 2021
By BRAVE Founder, Rumbi Magidivani-Sanderson
Looking back at my childhood, I realise that I had heroes who made such a significant difference in my life. My hero was my Grade 4 teacher.
As a child I was slow in everything I did. I would be the last one to complete my work at school. The last one to complete my chores at home. The last one to do anything that required coordination and concentration. My earliest school memories are comprised of no friends and missing recess as I always had to stay back in class in an effort to finish my assigned work. Sometimes 30 minutes of recess was enough but most times it was barely enough for me to fulfill the learning requirements of the morning. From the outside I looked like a "normal", albeit reserved, six-year-old. But I vividly remember my internal world experiences were totally different. Deep down I felt isolated, inadequate, and this was amplified when my peers would circle around me and chant, "slow coach, slow coach, you can’t catch us."
No one knew my story then... No one knew the reason why I was slow. Three years earlier, I had been involved in a serious accident. I was hit by a bus while accompanying my brother (5) to the bus stop. One may wonder why a three-year-old and a five-year-old were walking on the street unsupervised. But the boggling truth is that we weren’t alone. We had our nanny who was supposed to have assumed that role of supervision. I don’t remember anything that happened on that fateful day but I have collected the historical accounts of the witnesses and made sense of the sequence of events. In a nutshell, a case of momentary neglect, or negligence, led to serious injuries including a cranial injury which also resulted in extended hospitalisation and consequently trauma that impacted on my day to day functioning from then on.
From Grades 1 to 3, I was classified as an average student. I was in 'B class' and I would like to believe that this classification was due to my inability to complete assigned tasks on time. In the fourth grade, someone identified a diamond in the rough. That was my teacher. For the first time in my school life I had someone who was curious about me and the reasons why I couldn’t finish my work on time. My teacher collaborated with my mum and got the history of my medical trauma. With enhanced understanding of the etiology of my tardiness, she worked hand in hand with my mum to put strategies in place aimed at building my confidence and self-esteem. I remember Grade 4 was my best year at school. The first term, I attained fifth position in our end of term tests and in the second term, fourth. For the final term I landed in first position! This resulted in me being moved to the 'A class' for the rest of my primary schooling.
The truth is, this did not solve my problem with completing tasks on time but all my teachers now had an awareness of an important part of my history which helped them in tailoring their expectations towards me. As a child with renewed confidence and self-esteem, my speed in completing tasks was no longer a barrier in my academic performance. I no longer loathed being at school, and I became more resilient and built long-lasting friendships.
Though my trauma was never resolved until I was an adult, the intervention that I received in the fourth grade had an enduring impact to sustain me through the highs and lows of the trauma effects.
So, why BRAVE?
BRAVE is the acronym for Building Resilience and Affirming Values Early. Through my own experience, I have learnt the importance of resilience and values. I was blessed enough to have loving parents who instilled good values in me, but still that was not enough to sustain me through the effects of trauma. As the old adage goes: "it takes a village to raise a child" and that is exactly true when it comes to building resilience in children in different situations.
Resilience does not take the problems or issues away but it helps one cope with the challenges and bounce back with something positive from the setbacks. This is especially essential in times of uncertainty, vulnerability, and complexity, such as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global educational system and economy. Early intervention yields more success in both preventing and reducing the co-morbidities, financial impacts, relationship breakdowns and loss of lives due to poor mental health. I believe the best time for prevention and intervention is during childhood and adolescence.
The BRAVE Foundation - which I am founder and Executive Director - aims to provide early intervention services that improves the mental and emotional health of at risk children and adolescents. BRAVE employs a trauma-informed approach which aligns with strengths-based practice and prescribes a set of basic principles which are safety, trust, choice, collaboration, and empowerment (Elliott et al., 2005; Fallot & Harris, 2009; Harris & Fallot, 2001; SAMHSA, 2014a). Trauma-informed care is only effective if all the child related systems are in unison. One of our strategies at BRAVE is that we work collaboratively with all relevant services pertaining to our program beneficiaries so as to enhance coordination and maximise mental and emotional wellbeing outcomes for children and young people.