From an initial request to provide counselling services at the newly opened Don and Pat Bilton Primary Health Clinic in Jamestown in 2000, the Jamestown Community Project has evolved into a comprehensive community intervention. Through a process of community consultation, and the masters students in the counselling psychology programme identified the psychosocial needs, priorities were determined by community leaders, and counselling services were introduced at the clinic.

By 2004 the project has expanded to include a full-time internship at the clinic staffed by a masters student, providing counselling and psychological services. Life skills programmes run by masters and BPsych students have been introduced at Weber Gedenk Primary School and Stellenzicht High School. In addition, a rites of passage programme for boys has also been established at the high school. This intensive programme seeks to divert youth-at-risk from the negative influences in their disadvantaged social contexts that attract them to gangs, experimentation with drugs and alcohol and other risky behaviour. The programme relies heavily on regular group processing of adolescent issues, utilising wilderness settings as a therapeutic milieu and linking the participants in a one-to-one relationship with an adult mentor from the community. The success of the programme is reflected in the duplication of the programme not only to Cloetesville High School but also that a girls’ programme has been established in Jamestown.

Sherine Van Wyk, the first intern-psychologist in Jamestown and now a lecturer in the department, has been instrumental in driving the girls’ programme. Not only will international funding support these youth development programmes for another 5 years, but an additional internship has also been established at the primary health clinic in Cloetesville through the sponsorship of the Cape Winemakers Guild.

Through the dynamic community process set in motion, the mentors in the youth programmes are in the process of forming their own NPO. This, according to Prof Naidoo, is the essence of community psychology in practice, when residents are empowered to impact on the pressing issues in their own community. Through their involvement in these communities, several masters and doctoral students have been able to conduct valuable research for the project while also completing their thesis. This community service learning experience has also given psychology students an invaluable opportunity to engage with communities and apply the theories and skills taught in the lecture halls.