Humanitarian support in Paraguay, much more than an in kind donation

Published: 29 July 2014 17:49 CET

By: Enrique Jair Guevara, IFRC

Although the rains in Paraguay are now less intense, the Paraguayan Red Cross, with the support of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, continues to provide assistance to the families affected by floods.

We had the opportunity to talk to Lina Villa, Emergency Health and Psychosocial Support specialist. Psychosocial support is an essential line of support provided by Red Cross volunteers and staff.

EG: What are the most urgent health needs of the people that are now living in shelters?

LV: Health, as well as our physical surroundings, involves our state of mental, and social well-being and according to several definitions, spiritual well-being. Imagine what it means to live in a shelter, it means that what you’ve fought for all your life, your house, your crops, and/or livelihoods are gone. What you love most is vulnerable and your tools to protect or be protected have been significantly diminished. This causes stress, apprehension, or fear of the initial situation, trying to survive the flood with the passing days, plus the fact that the future is uncertain and you have to start over. The support you require takes time, the effects on the feelings, thoughts, actions and experiences of people are huge and direct.

EG: Why is psychosocial support important in these situations?

LV: When we want to support a community that has been affected by an emergency, a key part is to provide psychosocial support, as it helps us to empower communities in order to actively involve them in the response and recovery process. In addition to the day to day desires, our mind is like a small box that stores what you’re experiencing and how you are going to live and when there are emotions or strong thoughts, they do not disappear. One way or another this can affect how you move forward, so if you live with many strong emotions, over time, these can immobilize and therefore hinder your process of moving forward to be responsible for your life.

EG: When is the right time to provide this assistance?

LV: Psychosocial support should be provided BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER a disaster or crisis. We need to be able to prepare our teams before such an event, as well as strengthen inter-institutional coordination and networking.  DURING, providing assistance (containment, psychological first aid), supporting the assessment, developing a plan of action to support communities in the process of recovery in the form of empowerment with knowledge and strengthen their personal, family and social tools, and AFTER with the development and implementation of the process of resilience and recovery and following up on cases requiring mental health intervention and ESPECIALLY supporting the strengthening of networks that must support communities in the recovery process.

EG: What activities does the Red Cross carry out in order to address psychosocial needs?

LV: The Paraguayan Red Cross has developed a plan of action based on an efficient evaluation of the needs of communities in shelters in Asuncion. The plan focuses on children, teenagers and adults, as each population has specific needs. The plan is designed to prevent stress and provide the community with tools that will facilitate the recovery process and allow them to move forward.

The plan has three stages, consisting of initial psychological assessment and provision of psychological first aid, which has already been developed. The second stage consists of activities from different methodologies according to the population, strengthening the empowerment of people in their own situation, strengthening their perception of control, facilitating expression of feelings and the tools they have as well as learning coping strategies to manage their stress. The third stage aims to train a network within the community that will coordinate with local and national psychosocial support institutions, which will contribute to the sustainability of the operation, due to the fact that emergencies like this will continue to arise. It is therefore important to continue strengthening the communities’ capacities to overcome the present situation and also prepare for the impact of future disasters or crises.

Related links:

Psychosocial support

Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support