Moving beyond trauma
Working with the Karen Women Empowerment Group in 7 villages of the Taungoo Township in Kayin State, the Swiss Academy for Development used physical activities combined with traditional Karen dance and play to support over 800 women and youths traumatized by conflict and violence to cope with trauma. During a 2-year pilot programme, the participants improved their life skills, self-confidence and economic autonomy while strengthening community cohesion, putting themselves securely on the path to healing.
Can war survivors ever get back to normal life?
After almost six decades of civil war, displacement and military rule, Myanmar is still fractured by a widespread climate of latent fear and insecurity. The violence suffered during the war feeds post-conflict violence, abetted by a culture of silence, impunity and acceptance.
Women and children, who became pawns of the brutal warfare and suffered disproportionately, are left unsupported, with no psychological treatment available from the wrecked national healthcare system.
Working with the Karen Women Empowerment Group in 7 villages of the Taungoo Township in Kayin State, the Swiss Academy for Development (SAD) used physical activities, dance and play to provide psychological support for traumatized women and youths to help them cope with trauma and mental distress.
- 810 vulnerable people (436 women, 336 youths and 38 men) learnt how to recognize trauma and its effects on their lives, how to manage stress and how to build self-confidence and psychological well-being.
- Following core SAD methodology, the participants attended a total of 350 sessions, which included sport, traditional Karen dance, life-skills role play sessions, individual and group lay counselling consultations, Psychological First Aid and psychotherapy sessions, community meetings and village open discussions.
- Attendees had the opportunity to explore and put into practice important coping and communication mechanisms — often for the very first time — in an atmosphere of fun and easy exchange. Most of them reported substantial improvements in their ability to perform daily tasks and handle mental and interpersonal problems independently, a reduction in emotional distress and increased trust in and sympathy for others.
- About 30 local facilitators and lay counsellors were trained to animate the sessions in order to build valuable skills in the villages over the long term and ensure sustainability.
- To help improve women’s economic stability, seed capital was given to support 28 new small commercial activities (four in each village) and start 8 new saving and loans groups.
- SAD also provided legal support for 10 young girls who were victims of violence. The resolution of these cases offered the opportunity to discuss gender-based violence, marriage, child labour and trafficking laws in the communities and raise awareness around the rights involved.
Upon completion of the pilot programme, SAD shared its trauma-informed approach and its sport and role-play techniques, as well as the results achieved, with other development practitioners and researchers in and outside Myanmar. The extremely high participation rates and positive feedback obtained in the communities confirm the validity and relevance of this intervention, particularly in a sphere — mental health — where buy-in is generally difficult to achieve.
“We have to invite other women to join so they too can understand how it feels to be together.”
“I often felt excluded and now I just try to cope with that. After a while, I don’t feel sad anymore.”