Burundian crisis: Psychological support at the MEO Center

Promoting the psychosocial wellbeing of vulnerable groups

A year ago the situation in Burundi became very unstable. President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term without the consensus of the majority of the citizens and the inaction of the international community have resulted in over 400 deaths, more than 250,000 refugees in neighboring countries and about 15,000 displaced people.

The MEO Center we support in Bujumbura has thus become a haven of positivity and hope in these hard months which have been characterized by violent demonstrations, gunshots and explosions.

The decision not to close the center proved to be lifesaving for the 400 children and their families who attend the center and benefit from its psychosocial services.

In situations like this, no one is spared the fear, the sense of impotence and, many times, the loss of relatives and friends. Many have been forcefully taken for interrogation by the police or have been eyewitnesses to terrible violence. This has pushed us and our partner AVSI to provide even stronger psychological and psychosocial support for the children, their families and the center’s staff.

The crisis has required our psychologist and the social workers to double their efforts attending to the parents and children who have turned to them for help. The center’s neighborhood is one of the city’s most affected by the crisis. By providing people with the opportunity to share their experiences, they are slowly overcoming their traumas and fears.

A lot of hard work has gone into recreational therapy to help children piece together painful experiences and channel their frustration and fear through games, drawing and plasticine. Our continuous work with Play Therapy has proven instrumental in giving children an alternative to verbal expression. The activities have also helped to identify the children who have been more psychologically affected by the surrounding social violence and who are in need of additional support from the psychologist.

In order to ensure the staff’s psychological wellbeing and their capacity to work in times of crisis, formative sessions have been organized. These sessions, coupled with the psychologist’s regular supervision, have made it possible for staff to acquire the skills to overcome the fear of insecurity and to manage families and children in a setting of daily violence.

Our encompassing approach and the resilience that everyone at the MEO Center has shown during this ongoing hard times continue to provide the local population with the human aid that is required for social and psychological stability. We are hopeful and will continue to work hard and keep you informed of our achievements and strategies.

Photos © Brett Morton