Global Reach: Grantee Partners

School of Hard Knocks (SOHK)


Youth in South African townships are regularly exposed to high levels of violence, neglect, poverty and volatile domestic lives. On average, South African youth experience 8 ‘highly traumatic’ events each year (compared to the UK/USA average of 4.8 per lifetime). Compounded over time, these have led to young people in the country developing emotional conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, dysthymia and depression—conditions that compromise their ability to regulate behaviour, engage positively with their peers and achieve at school. Among the young people, School of Hard Knocks works with, 46% had witnessed a violent crime, 24% had been hurt physically by someone in their household and 24% suffered the loss of a close family member in the last six months. Overall, 76% experienced at least one adverse childhood event while 46% experienced multiple traumas in the same period. The impact of the strict and militarized lockdown during the first wave of the COVID 19 pandemic appears to have increased young peoples exposure to traumatic events and many parents lost jobs and many young people experienced or witnessed starvation.


The School of Hark Knocks (SOHK) works with young people at low or no-fee government schools who have been exposed to traumatic events to provide them with a safe space and help them improve their sense of well-being (low stress, depression or anxiety and higher self-esteem), strengthen life skills and increase school engagement. SOHK is apart of the international SOHK coalition though it is an autonomous organization. The Hard Knocks model was developed by American pedagogue Don Hellison and comprises of a 28-week curriculum focusing on personal and social responsibility. It focuses on ensuring that young people develop key skills such as self-awareness, the strength of character, goal setting, anger management and optimistic thinking.

Current Grant

EMpower’s 1st grant to the School of Hard Knocks (SOHK) is helping to strengthen the resilience of 200 young people (14-19 years old of whom 50% girls) in four low or no fee-paying schools in Cape Town through rugby training and off-pitch training and counselling. To strengthen the support structure for the young people in the programme, SOHK is engaging their caregivers through weekly counselling as well as train key teachers in trauma awareness. Finally, SOHK is working with a consultant to strengthen the mental health aspect of the curriculum and train staff.

You can support our work with School of Hard Knocks (SOHK) and our other grantee partners.

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