• Eunice Stoltz

In conversation with Desiree Joseph

- In collaboration with Petra Institute

Low self-esteem and peer pressure are some trials children in farming communities in South Africa face. In many cases, these trials are aggravated by inattentive parents and the absence of being listened to.

“The parents are not always emotionally available for their children. We have children who want to commit suicide and some who succeeded because there is just no one who wants to listen to them. Children want to be heard and feel they are loved”.

Desiree Joseph has been a dedicated youth worker since 1998 and has devoted herself to children in the farming communities of Wellington, in the Western Cape, South Africa.

She is a fulltime worker at an interdenominational ministry for farmworkers across the Western Cape, called Waterval (Waterfall), and is a facilitator for Petra Institute.

Desiree Joseph

“The Lord creates that hunger in your heart. My heart is to teach. I don’t only want to assist people; I want to teach them to do it themselves. It was then when I approached Petra and did the trauma course for a second time.”

11 years after attending a training session at Petra Institute in 2004, she crossed paths with Petra Institute again in 2015.

“The first time I did the trauma course, Walking with Wounded Children, it was important for myself. I wanted to do it for the children but in the end, it was to deal with my own pain in order to heal. The second time I did the course I could focus on the pain children experience, as my own pain was healed”.

Desiree’s passion is to serve children, especially those in rural communities. Her fulltime work at Waterval and as a facilitator at Petra Institute enables her to develop healthy relationships with children.

Children reading and listening

Her compassion for people is not limited to only children. She continuously maintains and builds relationships with adults, and the elderly.

Desiree Joseph with a group of elderly women

“The challenges in urban communities differ from those in rural areas. Where I’m involved in farms, children often struggle with who they are. They want someone to listen to them" explains Desiree.

And she does just that; listen to the children. She explains one of the methods she uses, which she learned at Petra, is called Caring & Sharing. This enables children to share how they feel and in return teach others in the group how to listen. Desiree laughs lovingly when she explains that she would sometimes ask them in general how they are and their response will remind her of the importance of them responding individually, as they are all yearning to speak and be listened to.

“Children really share their hearts. They would say they cannot tell this to their parents. But in a group where we know each other and have built a relationship they are open and receptive.”

“You seldom know what to do when you walk into a situation where there has been a death or accident. What I have learned through experience and training enables me to have the tools and skills to effectively help children in situations like that.”

She also reassures others who work with children, that they don’t always open up towards someone immediately, but that ongoing involvement will let them see that there is someone they may need and trust in the future.

A young boy tells his story after the tragic death of his father; using the structured sandbox method Petra Institute teaches in the Walking with Wounded Children course.

Desiree shares the story of a young girl who seldom spoke in groups or opened up to anyone. When she fell pregnant and didn’t know what to do, she instinctively knew she could trust Desiree.

“The girl had my number and because we already had a relationship, she started talking to me. Through our conversations, I realized that she doesn’t want to keep her baby.

“Using the skills I learned I talked to her without telling her what to do or forcing my viewpoint on her. Given our longstanding relationship since she was a young girl us in-depth conversations were in the first instance possible, and valuable.”

Today, the then young mother’s child is attending Desiree’s kindergarten class.

Desiree Joseph with a group of youngsters


Petra Institute’s mission is to help build communities where children are welcome. This calls for changes in the attitudes and skills of parents and community leaders. The institute works in partnerships with local organizations, helping to bring about attitude changes and to build capacity for the benefit of children, families, communities of faith, and society in general. To read more, visit the Petra Institute website, here.

*This article is in collaboration with Petra Institute and all photos were provided by Desiree Joseph.