Building on the successful foundation of psychosocial support in Haiti

Published: 14 September 2012 14:15 CET

“I have two wishes: that throughout your stay you participate actively and that each and every one of you take ownership of the program.” With these words, Dr Michaéle Amédée Gédéon, Chair of the Haitian Red Cross, welcomed participants to the first ‘Psychosocial Support Programme Consortium and Partners Meeting’ held on September 3-6 in Port-au-Prince.

Two years after the programme was launched, the Haitian Red Cross felt it was important to assess results to date so as to build on lessons learned and recommendations from partners. Triggered by the deployment of IFRC Emergency Response Units (ERU), this programme, led by the Haitian Red Cross, is supported by a consortium comprised of ICRC, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socieites (IFRC), the National Societies of Iceland, Italy and Norway, and supported financially by the Danish, Swedish and British National Red Cross Societies.

The main objective of the Psychosocial Support Programme aims to promote the resilience, emotional well being and social cohesion of the Haitian community.

Throughout the country, over 200 volunteers have been trained and 500 more were made aware of the psychosocial approach. Through their dedication, over 300,000 Haitians in distress have received appropriate support since 2010.

Participants to the meeting reviewed various technical tools for community intervention such as psychological first-aid and basic training, travelling library, literacy lessons, ‘résilience timoun’ manual, and guided workshops for teenagers. They were also were able to observe the work of courageous volunteers.

Jérome Grimaud, Psychosocial support Delegate for the IFRC in Haiti over the last two years, said: “Red Cross volunteers carry out a lot of unpaid work. To be a volunteer is not easy as the socio-economic situation is in a very precarious state.” Nevertheless, volunteers confide that they are very attached to the programme which is a learning experience, through training sessions and field work that will help them not only in their role as members of the Red Cross but also in their own future professional lives. In particular, they feel that they are responding to a real need that is often neglected, the need to feel supported emotionally in order to be able to rethread social links that have often been disrupted. “The welcome and thanks the volunteers receive from children as much as from adults are a daily testimony to their usefulness and it feeds their motivation to sustain the support they provide to the communities,” says Jérôme Grimaud.

On the last day of the meeting, volunteers were given the floor. In a vibrant language, Minouche Thelusmond shared her own small victories and her love for the work.  “What we love is the feeling to be useful. Even though it is not always easy, particularly in camps where violence is a daily fact of life. There was this person who was disabled, and very troubled psychologically. I often went to see him, but each time he shut himself in like an oyster. I could never reach him. Until one day, through my persistence, he opened himself. We started to talk and today he is well. He often phones to thank me. That is why I love what I do.”

Nana Wiedemann, IFRC Psychosocial Support Program Reference Centre Director in Copenhagen, Denmark, was elated with the outcome of the meeting. “This is the first time we have an insight into this programme,” she said. “I think it will be a good example for other National Societies.” 

The meeting was a venue for a first assessment of the first two years of the psychosocial programme and for making recommendations for its future.  Dr. Myrtha Louissaint, Head of the Health and Social Action department of the Haitian Red Cross said that the program's success should not underestimate the challenges it faces. “We end this meeting with a clear commitment from our partners for technical and financial support. We will work hand in hand with the IFRC Reference Centre in Copenhagen to develop new tools.”