Dealing with the trauma of displacement in The Gambia |

When conflict broke out in Kaddy’s Senegal village in early April, she was forced to leave her belongings behind to save her family. “We lost everything. When we left, we didn’t have time to take anything with us. Our animals, our food; everything was destroyed in the fighting”.

With her husband and seven children, Kaddy ran north to the Gambia, eventually making her way to a small village in the Janack district, in an area commonly known as ‘Foni’.

With nothing left, Kaddy and her family must rely on the hospitality of the local community for food and shelter. “We feel like a burden on the other communities that are helping us,” Kaddy lamented. “We feel ashamed to be ‘taken care of’, but we have no choice.”

Kaddy was among thousands of Senegalese forced to flee to the Gambia, according to the country’s National Disaster Management Authority, after fighting broke out along the Gambian-Senegal border, in territory held by the Force Separatist Movement. occupied by the Casamance Democracy (MFDC).

An additional 6,200 Gambians have been internally displaced, with another 8,500 affected in host communities – according to the Gambia’s National Disaster Management Authority – by the four-decade-long conflict.

Many Gambians living in Senegal are also affected.  Fatou left his house, with nothing but his family and clothes on his back.

IOM / Robert Kovacs

Many Gambians living in Senegal are also affected. Fatou left his house, with nothing but his family and clothes on his back.

Raise awareness of post-traumatic stress

Recognizing the significant impact the conflict has had on the well-being of displaced persons, the International Organization for Migration (International Organization for Migration)IOM) has mobilized its expertise in providing mental health and psychosocial support. In collaboration with Support Activists, IOM deployed a mobile psychosocial team – consisting of a psychologist, two social workers, an educator and a community advocate – to provide direct services to affected people.

One major approach being used by the mobility group is psychoeducation, where volunteers meet and engage with the community to discuss mental health issues and signs and symptoms. possible of stress. “The aim is to raise awareness of the experiences of individuals who have experienced post-traumatic stress or been negatively impacted by a change in behavior,” said Solomon Correa, Executive Director of the Operations Support Foundation. environment brought about by the crisis”.

These sessions, conducted in groups, leverage traditional socio-cultural activities, such as regular tea (attaya) sessions, to facilitate discussions.

“We can teach them coping mechanisms in discussions,” says Amie, a volunteer psychologist. “After we educate them about possible signs and symptoms of mental health problems, they are often eager to talk to us privately.”

Through psychoeducation sessions, the mobile team can identify people with specific mental health needs that need further attention and conduct follow-up visits or referrals as needed.

An IOM officer listens to the concerns of a community leader in a village in Gambia.

IOM / Robert Kovacs

An IOM officer listens to the concerns of a community leader in a village in Gambia.

‘This is one of the things that helps me the most in my daily life’

Fatou is one of many people who have benefited from dedicated, private counseling sessions.

A former Gambian living in Casamance with her Senegalese husband, her whole family fled when the conflict broke out. Fatou left the house suddenly and didn’t have time to pack up, as she was preoccupied with the safe evacuation of her 10 children, one of whom was physically disabled. For more than two months, she lived in her uncle’s house in Janack.

Fatou used small daily jobs, including providing labor on farms during harvest, to sell produce on behalf of farmers for a living. However, the stress of providing for her family in a new environment, along with traumatic memories from the shootings she witnessed, had a negative impact on her mental health. .

“By far, this is one of the things that helps me the most in everyday life,” says Fatou of the psychosocial support she receives. “I really enjoyed talking to them [the mobile team] and share my feelings and problems without hesitation. “Fatou’s sessions with the mobile team helped her to feel a sense of solidarity with the displaced: “It helps me know that we are not alone in this.”

There is no end in the scene

Months after the conflict broke out, there still seems to be no end in sight. “We are not sure if we will be able to come back. At the moment, we have no clue,” Fatou commented.

Psychosocial support is helping those most affected cope with dramatic changes in their lives and pick up the pieces left behind. As Kaddy shares, “Just being able to talk to someone alone about our problems during this crisis really encourages us. It helps us feel a little more comfortable even though there is no certainty about the future.”

Fatou agrees: “Since taking these classes, I have less anxiety.

In a world where mental health is often placed in the backseat, the work of a mobile psychosocial team of six demonstrates the benefits of prioritizing mental health needs.

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