Looking back: how we and our partners faced the Covid-19 outbreak

Promoting the psychosocial wellbeing of vulnerable groups

Displayed above: a virtual theatre workshop of our partner Fondazione Luigi Di Liegro

As Fondation d’Harcourt has been working with partners in both high, low, and middle-income countries, we have seen that the impact of Covid-19 around the globe has been truly devastating. The pandemic, which has affected everyone, poses not just a threat to physical health but also to mental health. It has highlighted a collective vulnerability in society and can serve as a major trigger of stress and anxiety, especially for individuals already struggling with psychiatric issues.

During this difficult period, we strengthened collaboration with our partners by taking the time to hear about how they and their families are doing as well as to learn about their challenges and discuss how to better meet their most pressing needs. We were impressed by the capacity of our partners to identify priorities and revise activities according to new demands on the ground.

Despite having to close temporarily, Centre de la Roseraie, an organization which works to destigmatize mental health conditions and assist newly arrived refugees to Switzerland, shared questionnaires among its attendees to identify needs and reorganize to enable individual rather than group support activities. Our partner Children Action, working in collaboration with the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG), has continued their activities to prevent teen suicide, allowing adolescents to participate in YouTube workshops, bird singing activities, and attend the International Festival and Forum on Human Rights held privately for participants of the Artopie Project.

Because our partners Mission Bambini and Fracarita Belgium provide in person services, their most pressing need was obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE). Mission Bambini runs the Omada Adolescent Neuropsychiatric Residential Community in Milan for girls ages 12 to 17 affected by psychotic disorders while Fracarita works in 5 regional hospitals in the Great Lakes Region in Africa to enhance the competencies of mental health personnel. With newly obtained PPE, which were provided by Fondation d’Harcourt, activities continue at Omada and Fracarita.

In Uganda, our partner CVT has found ways to continue its activities despite the country being locked down. CVT is conducting remote outreach and phone check-ins with clients as well as making referrals for medical services and basic needs support. When phone access allows, CVT counselors provide support for clients experiencing increased stressors due to Covid-19. For particularly vulnerable clients with severe mental health symptoms at risk to themselves or others, CVT counselors develop a safety and stabilization plan with the client, family members, and partner organizations. Additionally, CVT’s Clinical Advisors and Trainers are strengthening the capacity of local counselors by offering remote webinars, trainings, and weekly supervision sessions.

Since Ghana has declared a total lockdown, all project activities carried out by WHO and its partners in Ghana have been postponed. In the meantime, the project team has started to brainstorm how to readjust activities to the new situation. Due to the specific nature of the project we are supporting with WHO in Lebanon, the research trials for the E-mental health project are proceeding well. Despite the hurdles and challenges encountered related to the pandemic, recruitment rates have increased significantly and have been fully met in some cases.

Fondazione di Liegro in Rome, and Fundatia Inocenti in Romania continue to provide crucial mental health support and are working to close the gap of physical distance through virtual interventions. Every week by phone, the team at Fundatia speaks with nurses and social workers to share information on the patients at the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Addiction Clinic in Cluj-Napoca. They have actively promoted creative at-home activities that stimulate an entertaining and interactive environment for both parents and children. Similarly, Fondazione di Liegro has converted individual support and their art-therapy workshops into zoom calls and patients have responded positively to the new format.

 This year has posed significant challenges for everyone and while the situation is slowly improving, there is still more work ahead. It was moving to see how committed our partners were to reaching the most vulnerable populations during this period and we will continue to be by their side as we face the new reality posed by Covid-19.