Participants and facilitators of the Training of Trainers on Psychosocial Support and Psychological First Aid to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls, held at the Millenia Hotel, Apia in May 2021 with UNDP Resident Representative, Jorn Sorensen, Vice President, Peseta Arasi Tiotio and Chief Executive Officer of the Samoa Umbrella for Non Government Organisations, Fuimaono Vaitolo Ofoia (middle front). Photo: UNDP Samoa/L.Lesa

If the words ‘psychosocial support and psychological first aid’ are a mouthful, they are rightly so if you consider the magnitude of their meaning. Put simply, the phrase refers to the humane, supportive and practical help given to fellow human beings suffering serious crisis events.

It points to the kind of support offered by those who are in a position to do so, when terrible things happen to other people they can reach. More importantly, it gives a framework for supporting people in ways that respect their dignity, culture and abilities.

The Samoa Umbrella for Non Government Organisations (SUNGO) and 23 other NGOs identified the provision of psychosocial support and psychological first aid as a glaring gap in the provision of services of most entities responding to people in the communities in the immediate aftermath of extremely stressful events, such as violence against women and girls.

The need to train qualified trainers was highlighted in a capacity assessment for civil society (CSOs) and non government organisations (NGOs) conducted by the Spotlight Initiative in partnership with SUNGO in 2019.

The Spotlight Initiative is coordinated under UNDP Samoa’s Governance and Poverty Reduction Unit and works with UN Women, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNFPA and the United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office to deliver on the SDGs in a comprehensive manner to leverage comparative expertise. It was launched in February 2019 in Samoa, at a high-level event attended by the then European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, and the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Executive Director, Dr Natalie Kanem.

The Spotlight Initiative (SI) is funded by the European Union and the United Nations, committing €50 million (T$148 million) to end violence against Pacific women and girls under this programme. Several UN agencies, including UNDP, are involved in implementing this Initiative.

The Pacific region has the highest recorded rates of violence against women and girls in the world. Seven countries in the region have prevalence rates above 50 per cent. Women’s lifetime experience of violence, including sexual violence in the Pacific, ranges from 25 per cent to as high as 68 per cent.

Dealing with the women behind these shocking statistics was what the Training of Trainers (TOT) in May 2021 was all about.

“This is an initiative of SUNGO under the Spotlight Initiative to enhance the capacity of CSO trainers in the area of psychosocial support and psychological first aid. This is a skillset that is highly valuable in this time of COVID-19 and its social, economic and mental impact on everyone, in particular our women and girls,” said SUNGO CEO, Fuimaono Vaitolo Ofoia.

The training mainly utilised the services of qualified local counsellors and trainers.

“The Psychological First Aid training for our Samoan people is of vital importance: we ask the question “Why” Aiseā? To know how to enhance emotional and Spiritual well being in order to continue with everyday life.” The world is hurting in many ways Psychologically, Emotionally and Physically. Add into the mix a pandemic such as the one that we are facing, some will feel that life is just too much. Psychological first aid training offers various coping Strategies that is culturally appropriate to Samoans. At the centre of supporting our Samoan people, sspiritually based approaches in addition to Emotional support work together in helping our people deal with stressful situations,” said faletua Lemau Palaamo (Lead Co-Trainer).

“Women and girls in sport continue to be victims and survivors of violence and we as a sport organisation must be able to offer support. We take our role as a sport organisation seriously in pushing gender equality within the sports sector and we will continue to strive for a safe and secure environment for all our female athletes — that’s why being part of this training is crucial for us,” said Anasis Saipele of Apelu Sports, an organisation that delivers programmes in the areas of Leadership, Gender and Sports.

The training focused on the following key areas:

  • mental health and psychosocial support
  • guidelines from Pacific/Samoan approaches to counselling and support
  • psychosocial first aid (PFA) action principles of Prepare & Look, and Listen & Link
  • considerations prior to providing PFA and assistance
  • rapid safety audit and assessment of urgent needs
  • ethical guidelines
  • self-care and team support.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing and new inequalities and vulnerabilities that have made progress to end violence insufficient. The loss of income, economic challenges and increased stress levels are risk factors that have contributed to high levels of reported domestic violence experienced by women and children. Any national response and crisis management must include interventions to prevent violence against women and children,” said UNDP Resident Representative, Jorn Sorensen. “UNDP is very happy to support SUNGO’s efforts as a CSO coordination mechanism to elevate capacity development opportunities to address violence against women and girls, through trainings such as these.”

Ending violence against women and realising gender equality are top priorities for UNDP and is an integral part of its work in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 5 of gender equality .

The Spotlight Initiative’s work is premised on the belief that when women and girls are empowered and can live lives free of violence and discrimination, society can take greater steps together to achieve the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

Written by Laufaleaina Lesa, Communications Analyst, UNDP Samoa

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