The Khulisa Voice: 4 Things I Learnt at Khulisa

This month, our Research and Evaluation intern Ella Baggaley-Simpson shares an insight into her experience at Khulisa, what she learnt during her time with us and the impact of the Khulisa culture on her.  

I joined Khulisa as a Research and Evaluation intern in July of this year, having recently completed my undergraduate degree. I had had an interest in the criminal justice system and its reform for a number of years prior to joining, and when I saw the job listing, it felt like an amazing opportunity.

The past four weeks have been a period of real learning and growth for me, and therefore I wanted to share with you some of those lessons, and, I hope, give you a better idea of the ‘behind the scenes’ goings on at Khulisa. My four biggest lessons are as follows (in no particular order):

1. The importance of collaboration

Again and again during my time at Khulisa, I came across their emphasis on building meaningful partnerships to enable system-wide change. Everyone at Khulisa places a real emphasis on the importance of sharing best practice with sector peers to really influence public policy on issues related to mental health, education and justice. I was lucky enough to spend time with Cara, Khulisa’s Development Director, to gain insight into the fundraising side of the operation. Khulisa’s collaborative approach was really brought home to me during a meeting with a partner in the way Cara offered Khulisa’s support to help the organisation in resolving some challenges it faced. This constructive approach is, for me, so emblematic of Khulisa as an organisation. This culture is present even within the office environment, where the Khulisa team endeavours constantly to share what they are working on and learn from one another. When I first joined, everyone was eager to share their work and expertise with me: a fantastic induction from my perspective, and a testament to Khulisa’s collaborative culture.

2. Approaches require nuance

Having engaged with the criminal justice system on a very surface level prior to starting at Khulisa, working there forced me to reevaluate my perspective. During a fundraising session, the group were discussing what Khulisa meant to them, and what they thought the function of the charity was. Cara used the metaphor of a broken vase. Many criminal justice organisations help to provide individuals with housing, transferable job skills, a fresh start in effect. Khulisa’s job is to help those interventions ‘stick’ by fixing the vase. Whilst I’m sure those of you reading this are familiar enough with Khulisa’s work to appreciate this, I found the idea very profound; it forced me to adjust my outlook on the ways in which the third sector must approach the intersecting but distinct challenges faced by people in the criminal justice system, and others with complex needs. Change is only possible if we focus on people as much as their problems.

3. The opportunity to expand knowledge and understanding is invaluable

I may be taking the title a little too literally, but it would feel wrong to do a ‘what I’ve learnt at Khulisa’ blog, without referencing the sheer volume of knowledge I have accumulated in my time here. The internship has given me the opportunity to read academic papers, blog posts and books in order to fulfil my role in supporting the review of program materials. My initial brief was to research best practice and new developments in trauma informed practice and creative and art-based therapies. Some of my most interesting discoveries at Khulisa were from this research, including the neurobiologically grounded theories on how music affects the brain, and the effect of pre-natal trauma on the mental wellbeing of young people and adults.

4. Small can be powerful

Even during the short month I was there, it became clear to me that Khulisa is an exceptional organisation. In spite of its relatively modest size, it was evident that the small team punches way above its weight and delivers high impact interventions. It made me realise that size doesn’t always equate to potential, and this small but truly passionate team is enabling and enacting real and powerful change. In many ways, being small can be an asset to an organisation, allowing it to be nimbler, more innovative and more energised; Khulisa is a testament to that.

My favourite part of interning at Khulisa was the feeling of being part of something bigger than myself. The important work done here – helping provide young people and offenders with the life skills and emotional support necessary to fulfil their potential – changes lives. There are many reasons to consider working with or for Khulisa, but for me, the most significant was how worthwhile their work is and how effective they are at bringing about positive change in the community. 

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