2021-2022 Trócaire Annual ReportLearn More
On World Mental Health Day, we look at how Trócaire is supporting mental health projects across the world. Learn how we support children in conflict zones, women affected by sexual violence, and other projects that help people recover from trauma and violence.
Imagine if your loved ones were affected by the horrors of war, were forced to flee their homes and become refugees, had experienced torture or other human rights abuses, or had experienced sexual violence. In many of the countries that Trócaire works in, people are severely affected by trauma because of these types of incidents.
To mark World Mental Health Day 2020, we look at five inspiring projects around the world and powerful personal stories where we are supporting, caring and nurturing people’s wellbeing. These projects help people to cope with trauma, to live a life of dignity, to recover, to heal, to seek justice. They are made possible through your generous support to Trócaire’s work.
Eleven year old Maya plays freely on the swings, laughing with her siblings. She has a big grin on her face and it is clear that she feels relaxed and safe.
Here, in the ‘Safe Haven’ centre in Bar Elias, Lebanon, the war in Syria and the hardships her family has endured are distant memories.
Maya, who featured on last year’s Trócaire box, is a refugee from Syria. Her family has been pushed from their land as a result of civil war, and they have fled to safety into Lebanon.
The Syrian conflict, now in its tenth year, has resulted in huge amounts of trauma. Half the population have been forced from their homes. Almost 5 million children have been born in Syria in the last decade knowing only war. As a result, over half of refugees have experienced a severe emotional disorder.
Trócaire’s local partner SAWA is providing Maya and her community with this ‘Safe Haven’ centre where children can play in the playground, do art and attend classes. It feels like a breath of fresh air to enter the centre, which has a wide open playground area surrounded by flowers.
The children attending the centre enjoy playing on the swings, clambering up the climbing frame and spinning around in the playground. The playground uses colourful materials to help children feel safe and relaxed, so they can escape the hardships of daily life in the refugee camps and have fun with other children.
Before Covid arrived in Gaza, people were already facing huge mental pressures here. Multiple aerial bombardments by Israel in the last decade have created a legacy of trauma. This has been compounded by an ongoing economic blockade. Already one in four children in Gaza was in need of some sort of psychological support before Covid arrived.
The poverty rate was 54% before Covid and now an additional 10,000 families are seeking support. Most families rely on humanitarian aid to survive. Some organisations are also reporting an increase in the rate of violence against women.
Trócaire’s local partner organisation, the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme provides specialised counselling to affected people in Gaza. With Trócaire’s support, they have also established a free telephone hotline which aims to support people who cannot reach community centres for direct counselling support.
Providing these mental health supports can make a huge difference to people in Gaza affected by trauma, helping them to cope through some of the most difficult times in their lives.
From the outside, it isn’t much to look at. Yet this small hut in a remote village in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a lifeline to many women who are affected by violence here. This ‘listening point’ provides a safe space for survivors of violence to seek support.
Ituri province of DRC has seen some of the worst human rights abuses of Congo’s long running conflicts. This has included large-scale massacres and widespread sexual violence.
Gender inequality remains a deep-rooted issue in DRC. When women challenge these norms, gender based violence is often used as a tactic against them. Sexual violence has also been used as a military tactic by armed forces.
“There are so many cases of violence against women in this village” says Katembo Bernard who volunteers at the listening point. “It makes me shocked, it makes me really angry”.
Katembo supports survivors of gender-based violence in Butiaba village who come to the listening point. Together with other volunteers, he helps survivors to seek medical, legal and psychological support. These supports can make a huge difference for survivors as they seek recovery, healing and justice.
As Covid-19 spreads, many women at risk of violence at home are now facing greater danger. While isolation is being advised worldwide as a protection measure, for many women this can be dangerous. Crises and lockdowns can trigger an increase in domestic violence. Furthermore, 75% of frontline health workers are women, which puts them at increased risk of infection of Covid-19.
The Covid crisis has affected every country that Trócaire works in across the world. We have had to change and adapt many of our projects to ensure they are safe. For some of our mental health projects, our partners are now providing individual counselling with safe social distancing, and for some other projects we have moved to providing remote psychological support through the telephone, such as in Guatemala, Lebanon and Gaza.
This remote phone support can be a lifeline for women and men affected by trauma and violence during the pandemic.
“I couldn’t understand why he would be released, I went mad” says Uwizeyimana Immaculee about the family friend who murdered members of her own family. “I was traumatised. I lost hope in life for a long time”.
Up to one million people were killed in just 100 days during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. A Trócaire study revealed that a staggering 80% of Rwandans were traumatised following the genocide. Over the last 26 years, Trócaire has provided vital trauma counselling and reconciliation programmes that support healing.
Immaculee began to abuse drugs to try and block out the pain of what had happened to her. Vianney was sent to prison. Later he would be released yet he struggled with his own mental health, contemplating suicide.
Through a Trócaire project, both of them joined a ‘unity and reconciliation group’ and ultimately reconciled. It took over three years of hard work to build trust and understanding through group activities, meetings and mediation.
Ultimately forgiveness has come, allowing them both to move past the horror of the past, and remarkably, to become friends.