Luanda, 11 May 2011 – In an attempt to combat domestic violence, sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV) and provide education on HIV/AIDS, the Angolan office of the Jesuit Refugee Service is helping train community counsellors. Working in conjunction with local activists, JRS recently identified and trained eight counsellors.
As JRS Angola works in urban communities which are home to both refugees and Angolans, teams have selected and trained members of both groups as counsellors. This dual focus helps local integration of refugees, and also combats the perception that refugees access development opportunities at the expense of local communities.
One in fifty Angolans is living with HIV/AIDS, a problem which equally affects the refugee population, particularly near the Congolese border, and is worsened by the high rate of SGBV in the country.
When asked about the priority areas for these counsellors to address, SGBV Coordinator, Arlete Casikote, emphasised a focus on reconciliation and education: community counsellors try to foster forgiveness and communication between victim and perpetrator, from a counselling perspective.
"Training only part of the community doesn't resolve the issue; we train counsellors to pass their knowledge back to the communities they work in. Everyone needs to understand SGBV and how it affects their communities. The counsellors are trained for this too", added Ms Casikote.
The community counsellors are also responsible for developing and distributing materials to educate communities on SGBV and HIV/AIDS issues and re-enforce the message of zero tolerance towards violence and abuse.
While eight volunteers have been trained to work in Caxito, near Luanda, JRS hopes to train a further seven in 2011. Community members have welcomed the initiative, and JRS has received many applications for these volunteer positions.
Focusing on training community members as volunteers has other positive effects, such as opening up the possibility of finding employment in a country where 90 percent of the population live below the poverty line.
"We know we are creating a resource for the community; this is a sustainable way of educating and providing support to communities that doesn't rely on the JRS presence", explained Ms Casikote.