Psychosocial support to vulnerable communities in Yemen

After four years, the on-going armed conflict in Yemen has left people exposed to psychological distress and in need for psychosocial support. To help people exposed to psychological distress Danish Red Cross and PS Centre are currently supporting Yemen Red Crescent Society to implement psychosocial support for affected communities in Yemen.

Honestly, I had no a clear vision of psychosocial activities before I had the chance to attend the psychosocial training.” These are words of Amani Al-Rumaim who works as a field officer based in Sana’a Amanat Al-Asimah branch. This area is one of the affected communities in Yemen where the psychosocial programme is being implemented. Amani Al-Rumaim has been trained by the PS Centre and Danish Red Cross in community-based psychosocial support.

Amani has been a member and volunteer of Yemen Red Crescent Society since 2007. Despite her long involvement in humanitarian work, she says that participating in the training was her first real encounter with psychosocial support. “These concepts have greatly expanded my perception, I began to feel that psychosocial support and psychological first aid are topics as strong as physical first aid.”

Amani al-Rumaim and her fellow volunteers participate in the trainings that are offered under the C-SHARE programme. C-SHARE stands for “Community Services in Health and Action for Resilience” and is a three-year long programme funded by the EU Development and Cooperation (DEVCO) and developed by Danish Red Cross with technical support from the PS Centre. It is implemented by Yemen Red Crescent Society serving vulnerable communities and local authorities in the Hodeidah, Ibb, Mahweet, Aden and Sana’a Amanat al Asimah governorates in Yemen.

Ahlem Cheffi from the IFRC PS Centre and Zara Sejberg from Danish Red Cross are training Yemen Red Crescent Society staff and community volunteers in psychosocial support. “Until now we haven’t reached communities, but we are currently working to build the capacity of staff and volunteers to ensure that they will implement community-based psychosocial activities. The aim is to work through community volunteers and empower them to implement psychosocial activities in their own communities,” _say Ahlem Cheffi and Zara Sejberg and explain further some of the practical tools: _“We trained them on psychological first fid, community-based psychosocial support, self-care and peer support, minimum standards for protection, gender and inclusion, who to plan and implement awareness raising and psycho-education sessions, child friendly spaces and community-led social events. And we also promote the safety and well-being of Yemen Red Crescent Society staff and volunteers as they are themselves directly affected by the conflict in Yemen.”

Hodeidah is one of the affected communities participating in the C-SHARE programme. The city is under siege by warring parties and constant airstrikes which have forced more than 500.000 people between June and August 2018 to flee from the area to nearest safe locations.

Tamani Mohammed is a field officer based in Hodeidah and describes how the training has helped her to support the Hodaidah population: “The psychosocial programme taught us how to listen to people’s problems; not to give them false promises. I learned how I can explain to people the meaning of stress, stress signs and coping, in a lay language. How to differentiate between psychological first aid and first aid, to provide psychological first aid and provide psychosocial support and deal with children in child friendly spaces.”

Abdullah Logman, senior psychosocial support officer for the C-SHARE program, explains the urgent need of these trainings:

The community-based psychosocial approach and its different components and activities (e.g., psychological first aid) are relatively new approaches to Yemen Red Crescent Society, so we need to include them within our humanitarian work. We also hope that YRCS expand the psychosocial activities in the 22 branches. Due to the wide effect of the conflict, I believe that a psychosocial support program like this one will benefit to all

One of the practical tools used to manage stress in men and women is a weekly self-plan which staff and volunteers are trained on and can use as part of the self-care activities. Danish Red Cross and IFRC PS Centre are also developing different tailored community tools for stress management for children and adults to help communities to strengthen their capacities of resilience and to cope with daily stressors. “The value of this programme is that we are working together with the psychosocial team from Yemen Red Crescent Society to adapt the content of the trainings to the capacity of Yemen Red Crescent Society and constantly trying to make each module more practical, culturally adapted and interactive with space to be creative” says Ahlem Cheffi Today the psychosocial team from Yemen Red Crescent Society is ready to provide psychosocial first aid themselves and thus to train other volunteers and local communities in providing psychological first aid. “This is the aim of our work; to empower the local staff and volunteers and enable them to provide themselves psychosocial support to their communities. We are also training non-MHPSS specialist health care providers (YRCS primary health care staff) on how to identify mental health problems and disorders to treat and care for people with these conditions. Due to the severe lack of mental health professionals in Yemen, there is a dire need to educate and train primarily health staff to better support people with mental health problems and we hope that our trainings will contribute towards this goal. We aim to target 50 people” says Ahlem Cheffi.

Voices from the field in Yemen:

“With the capacity building of Yemen Red Crescent Society through the trainings we are building a society and aiding our country to adapt to the current difficult conditions.” – Dalia Jalal Alsaggaf, PSS Officer in Sana’a, Mahweet, & Aden branches.

It’s important to build the psychosocial support capacity of the Yemen Red Crescent and learning how to integrate it with other projects and sectors such as public health, community health, water, hygiene and sanitation, first aid, disaster reduction, nutrition. _We aim to raise the capacity of YRCS in providing psychosocial support with high quality and in accordance with the IFRC Psychosocial Support Reference Centre standards” _– Rim A. Alsakkaf (YRCS psychosocial focal point and senior officer)

The most important thing I have learned about myself is how protection is important and should be integrated in any program. I have learned the essential principals of the DAPS (Dignity, Access, Participation and Safety). I learned also how to deal with different groups and respect their attitudes and opinions.” – Mohammed Al Gozahi, Field Officer in Mahweet.