Interview with Yeukai Chideya

a portrait of Yeukai Chideya

The origins of the Trauma Centre

The Trauma Centre originates from an initiative by the Anglican Church in Cape Town, South Africa, to provide accommodation for people who were visiting political prisoners on Robben Island during the Apartheid era. [1] Many of the prisoners’ loved ones had to travel from other parts of the country and needed somewhere to stay while they visited.

The challenge of providing support for refugees

In this interview, Yeukai explained the challenges in providing refugees with timely support. Her training focussed on providing counselling, but she soon realised that refugees in South Africa also have other pressing needs.

The typical experience of a refugee entering South Africa

Most refugees enter South Africa through Limpopo or KwaZulu-Natal where they are granted an asylum seeker permit. The permit only provides limited rights and needs to be renewed every few months. Often refugees don’t have the resources to travel back to their port of entry to renew their permit. Even if they do manage to travel back, Yeukai mentioned that some refugees have been using these permits for as long as 20 years when the process to become legally recognized as a refugee is stalled.

Fleeing your home to be met by xenophobia

There are no government initiatives to prepare local South African communities to welcome refugees and many locals are afraid of losing their jobs and resources to the incoming refugees.

Opportunities for technology to help refugees in South Africa

Knowing where to go to get the right help is difficult, especially when refugees don’t speak the local languages. Yeukai explained that it would be helpful to have a directory of services in languages spoken by refugees.

The origins of the Ruremekedzo Project

Yeukai founded the Ruremekedzo Project, a non-profit organisation that delivers packs that contain underwear, sanitary pads, toothpaste, a face towel, and soap to women and children who have been displaced by humanitarian crises. She has led donation drives for refugee camps in Somalia, in response to cyclones in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and in response to a hurricane in Haiti.

Yeukai packing bags which contain a variety of necessary items

Opportunities for research

Yeukai’s insights raise several research questions. The practical challenge of renewing asylum permits is a major hurdle for refugees (and continued to be even when the government switched to an online system during the COVID-19 lockdown). Are there other mechanisms that fulfil government needs but don’t create a hurdle for refugees? Refugees need to feel safe and integrated into the local communities they join. What are the most effective means to prepare local communities to welcome refugees? Non-profits offer a range of services for refugees, but it can be difficult for refugees to know where to go for each need they have. How can the social services sector provide an accessible directory of social services when most refugees have limited access to the internet or smartphones? Yeukai’s experience starting her own charity showed that donors need to understand the importance of a cause. What is the optimal way for charities to focus their education efforts? How do charities compete for donor funds?



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MD4SG is a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary initiative working to improve access to opportunity for under-served and disadvantaged communities.