With the reality of COVID-19 facing many, a psychosocial support organisation is making use of the concept of “flocking” to provide some hope with the help of research conducted by Professor Liesel Ebersöhn of the University of Pretoria (UP).
“Flocking shows behaviours that are implied by ubuntu, and refers to people sharing available social resources to withstand everyday challenges,” says Prof Ebersöhn, Director of the Centre of the Study of Resilience in UP’s Faculty of Education.
Her book, Flocking Together: An Indigenous Psychology Theory of Resilience in Southern Africa, spans decades of her work in the field of educational psychology and outlines how Southern Africans tackle problems they are faced with in everyday situations, having developed sophisticated, robust social structures to support one another despite the absence of formal structures and support services.
Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI) is a South Africa-based organisation that mainstreams psychosocial support into programmes and services for children and youth in East and Southern Africa. In its video Fright, Flight, Flocking, REPSSI makes use of research by Prof Ebersöhn that shows how Southern Africans use resilience strategies that reflect interdependent values and beliefs characteristic of ubuntu to mitigate the effects of extreme adversity.
Different to self-promoting strategies that promote independent success and the competitive advantage of individuals, flocking implies social support strategies that enable collective healing and thriving. Flocking involves what Prof Ebersöhn calls “simple acts of connectedness: visiting a friend who is ill; listening and helping with household chores; taking someone to a clinic for a check-up; keeping our ears to the ground to spot people who need help”.
In its video, REPSSI says that, faced with COVID-19, people are currently isolated and experiencing economic hardship. This shows just how interconnected and interdependent we are. Resilience entails leveraging available systemic resources to enable “strength to stand up when life is knocking you down” it says in the video.
REPSSI explains that when humans are confronted with adversity the brain releases adrenalin to elicit a fight-or-flight response. The organisation then goes on to refer to Prof Ebersöhn’s research on flocking whereby communities assist one another. “They share their skills and resources. They help each other by talking and sharing resources,” the video explains.
The film also explains how flocking entails gaining traction from available social capital located within an Afrocentric belief system to buffer a collective against severe hardship. With COVID-19, the social support practices used worldwide in communities reflect flocking principles commonly used in Africa. Examples of flocking in the COVID-19 crisis are Italians singing on their balconies, American DJs providing online entertainment, the British applauding health care workers when their shifts end, and South Africans helping the elderly. “Reach out, touch someone with a message or phone call, or join a WhatsApp group,” REPSSI says. “Together we shall overcome this adversity.”
The organisation is currently making accelerated use of its website (www.repssi.org) and social media to promote flocking, and to support and reach its partners, caregivers of children and youth, all of whom find themselves socially isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic.