Since spring 2021, the Network has been providing guidance and support to its member, U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) to identify best practices in psychosocial support to better facilitate collaboration and cooperation between religious actors and mental health professionals who provide services to conflict-affected communities — including trauma-affected displaced persons. The initiative will focus on Latin America, namely Colombia and Venezuela, as a pilot region, aiming to offer practical recommendations to relevant stakeholders.
Colombia has endured nearly 50 years of armed conflict, with over 9 million victims of the violence. Of the 9 million victims, 89% are considered victims of internal displacement. In Colombia, displacement disproportionately affects Afro-descendant and indigenous communities, with many victims moving to larger cities and leaving their ancestral lands and more traditional ways of life, further inflicting trauma and multiple forms of victimization.
Since 2017, Venezuela has evolved into the worst humanitarian crisis in the region due to the political, economic and social crises. As of August 2020, the Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants registered 5,180,650 Venezuelans displaced with 34% of those (nearly 1.7 million) located in Colombia.
Many displaced people have endured severe trauma as a result of violence or disasters that led to their displacement and in the experience of displacement itself. Addressing these trauma-related needs is critical. A growing body of research suggests that psychological trauma, if untreated, can contribute to many long-term challenges for individuals, their families, and the communities that support them.
With the increased migration of Venezuelans to Colombia, local faith-based organizations and religious actors are providing psychosocial services to the migrant population and coordinating efforts with government institutions to improve the response to the humanitarian crisis. By nature of the societal roles they play and the trust they have with communities, religious and traditional actors often serve as a frontline source of support for survivors of violent conflict, including IDPs. They provide humanitarian and resettlement support, and where professionally trained mental health services are lacking, they can provide emotional, psychological, and spiritual support as well.
As a pilot, this project will focus largely on conducting research and offering analysis to inform policy and practice, documenting and sharing resources between experts and practitioners. At the same time, virtual consultations will bring together religious and trauma care specialists, as well as survivors of conflict-related trauma, to share knowledge and experience, creating a Community of Practice among those who support the psychosocial needs of trauma survivors from conflict-affected communities.
Overall, the project will support the following outcomes as well as identify the lessons learned in this process to inform future efforts regarding religion and psychosocial support in other countries:
- Build better understanding by conducting and disseminating research to map and identify current efforts, resources, best practices and evidence-based interventions to inform policy and practice.
- Strategically disseminate research findings through various fora, including publications.
- Foster effective collaboration between religious and traditional actors and mental health professionals to encourage more effective psychosocial support for survivors of conflict-related trauma.
- Engage religious actors, mental health professionals, NGOs and public officials through virtual online learning and exchange platforms.