Strengthening the PATH: Tree of Life in Zimbabwe | The Center for Victims of Torture

Strengthening the PATH: Tree of Life in Zimbabwe

Monday, October 10, 2016

Liyam Eloul is a CVT clinical advisor for mental health

I have been working in cross-cultural trauma treatment for nearly a decade, and each experience deepens my interest in and passion for this field and its complexities. The majority of my work has been focused in the MENA region, an area close to my heart, but earlier this year I joined CVT’s PATH team and have had the opportunity to broaden my work to our sites across the African continent, including a recent assessment visit in Zimbabwe.

Organized political violence has been common in Zimbabwe for more than 30 years, fracturing communities and impacting social interaction and day-to-day functioning. During the Liberation War in the 1970s, many suffered physical and psychological torture that still continues to impact communities. Since that time each election cycle brings new flare-ups of repressive violence. CVT’s Partners in Trauma Healing (PATH) project, which focuses on building the capacity of independent torture treatment centers around the globe, completed a week-long assessment and planning visit with Tree of Life (TOL), a new partner in Zimbabwe. During this visit, four PATH Advisors, specializing in mental health, program evaluation, and organizational development, worked with 30 staff members and community facilitators in the capital city of Harare to construct a two-year plan tailored to the organization’s needs, resources and context. 

TOL is a survivor-led, community-based organization that raises awareness among community leaders, and implements three-day trauma healing workshops focused on relieving the symptoms resulting from torture, empowering participants, and re-establishing community ties. These workshops focus on helping communities to rebuild systems of trust and support through a progressive series of talking circles, incorporating storytelling and body work, as well as a variety of coping skills practice. Each workshop is situated within a broader model of community engagement, made possible by TOL’s network of community facilitators. Currently, TOL is able to reach numerous communities across the country through more than 100 volunteer facilitators, living and working in the communities they serve, hosting ongoing activities and dialogue. 

In 2011, CVT began working with TOL in order to help the organization build a system for monitoring and evaluating the impact of their work. One of the many fruits of this partnership was an academic article (“Community Intervention During Ongoing Political Violence: What Is Possible? What Works?”) that contributed to knowledge on best practices for mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) in humanitarian settings. This year, CVT and TOL are expanding their partnership under PATH to strengthen the organization’s mental health systems and organizational structures. Some of our joint objectives include systematizing TOL’s clinical supervision and training schemas, strengthening reporting mechanisms, and building a broader set of skills for established community facilitators, enabling them to form independent CBOs within their communities.

Each PATH partner organization has a unique character and each visit by CVT advisors takes on a life of its own. Our visit to TOL felt vibrant and collaborative—despite the large group of people, everyone was engaged and each person’s voice was heard. It was clear that the staff and volunteers are unified in their desire for improved services for participants in their programs. The week was not all work though: time was made throughout the day for lively energizers, often in song and dance, which usually ended with all of us laughing our way back to our seats. 

The week flew by and was productive, educational and fun. By the end of it, we had constructed an Integrated Capacity Building Plan that will serve as a guide in our work together over the next two years. But moreover, we had built the relationships that will allow us to work together effectively and comfortably, despite the distance between our head offices. Remote capacity building is challenging and this rapport makes all the difference in our ability to communicate and mentor successfully. It gives us a much more realistic, grounded understanding of the context our partners operate in, as well as their strengths and challenges. In listening to the passion, creativity and motivation of the TOL staff, I was constantly humbled and reminded of how lucky I am to work in this field, with such incredible people.

Learn more about CVT’s PATH program.

Partners in Trauma Healing (PATH) is made possible through the financial support of the United States Agency for International Development and the American peoples’ support.



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