Saturday, May 7, 2011

Building Capacity for Psychosocial Wellbeing Service Providers

After 14 years of conflict, Liberia's day-to-day affects of war have evolved from post-war emergency needs to more challenging problems that require holistic and integrated psychosocial approaches. This has also prompted the humanitarian agencies to reflect on the need to adapt more appropriate interventions to the suffering populations. The need for relevant interventions has been a top priority of LCIP and other international NGOs funded by the USAID here in Liberia.

A five week intensive Psychosocial Training (theory & practice), took place in Monrovia and the NGOs that participated included; Save the Children UK, International Rescue Committee, World Vision Liberia, Christian Children Fund, Africare - Liberia, with other players; Christian Health Association of Liberia, and the Lutheran Church of Liberia.

The ultimate goal of the LCIP-led workshop was to enhance the understanding of the psychosocial issues, approaches and appropriate methods of interventions among all service providers covering more than nine counties, serving children, women and ex-combatants to best restore communities back to normalization. The key facilitator expounded on logical approach to psychosocial support work step by step using community participatory approaches and experiential learning for all the participants. The general consensus was that, this is very dynamic field, and service providers need to up-date their skills with time. The integration of the traditional and conventional approaches in psychosocial during the training, enabled the participants to internalize the added value of incorporating the useful community-based coping mechanisms.

In the words of trainees, Esther Musa from the Lutheran World Federation and Caroline Bryant of World Vision Liberia said, "it is their mission to develop appropriate models in line with their organizational goals integrating the new theory that impacts the larger community."

Another challenge influencing the past and present services in mental health is derived from 10 to 15 years of varying models of western diagnostic systems to individually focused services aimed at persons rather than groups or societies. Most of the participants felt that the training helped to unveil gaps in skills and provided a new understanding and realization of the need use more holistic and integrated approaches.

The field practice took the trainees to Living Water International (ELWA), Shefflin Army Barracks, Jahtondo Displaced Camp, (Brewerville), and Save the Children, (Paynesville). The practical assessments and application of role plays, skits and simulations enabled the trainees to realize that - "not every one is traumatized" - as it has been the belief. Most people could recount a terrible experience, but were managing to rebuild their lives with the reassurance of security, water, and food; basic survival elements. Using a skit on alcohol abuse at the sites, the trainees realized a new beginning for application of relevant psychosocial support models for Liberia. Combined field findings revealed to trainees the added value in applying the levels of intervention according to valid assessments. Reinforcing the "step by step" in psychosocial support, Dr. Baron's said, "A hungry stomach has no ears." They found that while 100% of the community contacted had in-fact experienced a traumatic experience, only 20-25% were affected, but going on with life, while 10% could not function without support, with 1-3% actually being mentally ill.

Speaking in the forum, LCIPs Social Reintegration Manager, Rachel Muiru summarized the importance of the integrated approach to psychosocial interventions with the story of the seven blind men who went to see the elephant. The synopsis, each "blind" man touched a different part of the animal hence their own individual understanding. The second touch provided by this training opened the participants "eyes" and can now see the whole elephant, as it stands.

At the end of the training, the participants agreed to continue with networking to ensure a complete "mind shift" and, that the newly acquired skills and knowledge reach many other stakeholders in particular, those at the grassroots levels. The training will continue for another three weeks this September.

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