Freelance facilitator and chaplain Philip Allan Stoneman (47) is a man with a rich history of experience and accolades to his name. He is the founder of Trauma Support South Africa and is a qualified facilitator and assessor who does freelance training and awareness presentations for Creative Foundations Training, ImpiMed Medical Services and Tensho Security.

Stoneman was also the founding director of the iThemba Rape and Trauma Support Centre – a position he held for seven years. Prior to that, he was involved with the Emergency Services Chaplaincy on the East Rand between 2000 and 2005. 

He has served as a trainer for the South African Institute for Traumatic Stress (SAITS) from 2008 to 2011 and has facilitated several workshops for the Gauteng Department of Health and Department of Community Safety. Stoneman joined the South African Police Service (SAPS) as a reservist in 2006 to better understand the effects of trauma on officers and workers.

In May 2015, he was called as a stated supply minister to the Dalpark Presbyterian Community Church where he ministered until July 2019. He is an ordained pastor and falls under the authority of the Order for Christian Service and Order for Christian Mission. Stoneman currently ministers as a community chaplain in the Fairleads Benoni Agricultural Holdings as a volunteer.

As Told To: Niall Higgins.

I remember my first call as a chaplain like it was yesterday. I was a youth pastor – naive, blindly evangelical and passionate. I was also a chaplain with the emergency services, I donned a uniform and even had a ‘response car’ – a red VW beetle with a rotating red light.  One day, I arrived at a double murder-suicide scene in Wattville, Benoni.

We were seated inside an unfinished lapa with a six-foot concrete wall to my right. Just before the wall, lay two lifeless bodies. One was covered by a silver sheet and the other by a yellow plastic sheet. In the light sand, I saw a dark stain of blood. The man had shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself. The dead couples’ grieving and angry mother sat across from me. That scene was soul-wrenching.

My passion for trauma and community-led me to establish Trauma Support SA, an organisation dedicated to furthering education and awareness of traumatic stress in disadvantaged areas. I’ve been in the victim empowerment field for about 14 years and through my work, I have come across many South Africans affected by trauma.

The organisation’s vision was born at the iThemba Rape and Trauma Support Centre in Benoni. During this period, we provided trauma support, counselling and therapeutic assistance. We had a medico-legal facility that conducted sexual assault evidence collection and examination whilst providing the necessary post-exposure prophylaxis and medication – all free of charge. The commitment and passion of our staff and volunteers contributed to the aid of 3500 sexual assault cases. Our per-annum average was equal to 1.3% of the national reported rape statistic.

At present, we are not fully funded, so it’s been tough putting together good material. Our community chaplaincy project, which consists of on-scene trauma support and community outreach has been busy providing food parcels to hundreds of people in need. We have four chaplains assisting with a support team. We started helping 27 adults and 13 children before the lockdown and are now assisting approximately 500 people. We also work very closely with National Freedom Network, an organization dedicated to ending human trafficking.

The worst part of the job is witnessing secondary or vicarious trauma. I was called out to two scenes that haunt me to this day. The first was of a 12-year-old girl who was picked up by a young man who said he was a police officer. He was known as the Benoni serial rapist and he had raped her. I remember her face looking up at me crying and showing confusion. I still see that face in my mind and wonder how she is today.

The second scene was when three teenagers were killed by a drunk driver opposite Lakeside Mall. They were on their way to church and a girl was pinned to a tree. I had to tell the parents that their children had been killed. I have seen so much, carried the pain of others on my shoulders and comforted families in the deepest depths of their pain.  But the stories remain, attached to my soul.

Each day when you interact with people you know or don’t know, have you ever stopped to think about the emotional pain this person may be carrying? We all put up barriers to protect ourselves against painful stories, but it’s still there, buried deep within and it affects lives, emotions and behaviours. However, trauma within can be released when the journey of narrating the story is facilitated by a person skilled in trauma care.

I once arrived for a case on the outskirts of Etwatwa in Ekurhuleni. Police tape cordoned off a fifty-metre radius of the crime scene. In the centre lay the lifeless body of a young man who had been stabbed to death. He was in his twenties and residents from the area formed a human circle around the crime scene which consisted of the dead boy, his grieving mother and her friends.

Surrounded by Etwatwa and feeling her pain with nothing but the universal language of grief connecting us, I knelt next to her. I placed my hand upon her shoulder and began to pray. God’s presence was in the dust of Etwatwa that day. We were surrounded by legions of angels looking down on us. They had witnessed the evil of that day and knew of the pain and suffering of a community littered by crime and violence. God comforted her through not only his presence, but the prayerful presence of a community, of family and friends and even of an outsider, yet a brother in Christ.

That’s where we come in, as trauma support volunteers providing guidance, education and trauma-related information. This role provides effective psycho-social support. It’s valuable and it makes all the difference.

For more information regarding trauma-related issues, contact Trauma Support SA: 067 058 5024.

FEATURED IMAGE: Founder of Trauma Support SA Philip Stoneman, training with the Crystal Park CPF Fairleads ‘plot-watch’ in dealing with trauma and stress-related incidents. Photo: Provided.