Wednesday, April 29, 2009
A call to action to help the young people of Africa
Photo: Close portrait of Lizzi. For the past three months girls who suffered during the civil war have been receiving psychosocial counselling treatment from Plan. By confronting difficult memories and using different meditation techniques, the girls are slowly coming to terms with their traumatic experience. Photo courtesy Alf Berg/Plan.
Plan Canada has just released a startling new report on how young people in West and Central Africa are coping with the aftermath of war and other high-risk situations.
The 64-page report – called Silent Suffering – was compiled by researchers with Plan and Family Health International. The report paints a disturbing picture of the lives of young people in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Togo. All five countries are rated near the bottom of the Human Development Index.
Plan has integrated community development programs in all five countries – none of which are on CIDA’s current list of countries of focus.
Interviews with more than 1,000 young people (up to the age of 24) were conducted over a 12-month period in order to gain a clearer understanding of the level of suffering.
“It became very apparent that we needed more information, but it did not exist,” said Sangita Patel, senior program manager, Plan Canada, in a telephone interview from Toronto.
The report focuses on the impact of HIV/AIDS, ethnic cleansing, growing up without parental support, trafficking and other forms of sexual abuse on young people.
“These are very important voices that we have not heard about because they tend to go to the margins,” said Ms. Patel.
Ms. Patel feels the most immediate need is for communities or those individuals close to the affected youth to be able to detect depression, suicidal tendencies, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other forms of abuse and get them into immediate counselling.
The availability of qualified support is one of the biggest problems. In Sierra Leone, for example, there are approximately 100 psychologists, according to Ms. Patel.
“The resources just are not there,” she said.
In response to research revealing an urgent need for crisis counselling, mobile units were established.
The voices of young people in need echo throughout the report and are haunting. Some even criticize donor countries for focusing on the wrong things.
“You are rebuilding the schools and the roads and the bridges,” said a young woman in Liberia, who witnessed the murder of her father and brother. “But you are not rebuilding us.”
In an effort to reach out to traumatized youth, the counsellors used a variety of techniques.
“One of the things they did was spread a rope on the floor and use stones and flowers to create a timeline of happy or sad moments (in their lives),” said Ms. Patel. “Most were very happy to spend time with a trained person who wanted to hear about their experiences.”
The report finds there are many internal and external factors that contribute to the resilience of these young people, including: self-esteem, a feeling of being in control, a sense of belonging, a connection with community values, a positive relationship with a caregiver, peer relationships, access to food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare.
“I am hopeful (for the youth in the study),” said Ms. Patel. “They are looking forward to a future to some degree. I think that is a testament to their resiliency.”
The report calls for increased child protection, increased psychosocial support and greater overall social protection – which includes better access to health care, education and job opportunities.
“This report should be a call to action,” said Ms. Patel.
Ruth (not her real name) attending counselling session with Joseph from Plan Liberia. Joseph uses a 'Lifeline' technique to counsel Ruth, the flowers represent happy events and rocks represent sad events on the Lifeline. Photo courtesy Alf Berg/Plan.