‘Building self-confidence’

An interview that looks at mental health in crisis-affected regions and at the importance of collective care

Rajiv Raman

GIZ operates worldwide in unstable regions affected by conflicts and crises. The people who live there face a high level of psychosocial stress, which can impact their mental health. This is the case in Jordan too, which is home to hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled the violence of the Assad regime. In an effort to raise awareness of the possible impacts on mental health and to support those affected, GIZ is increasingly adopting a Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) approach. The approach is also being pursued in Cash for Work measures, including the development of green infrastructure projects in Jordan. We talked to Jordanian Rania Majdalawi Ahmed, who attended an MHPSS training course, and Johanna Lechner, the GIZ staff member responsible for the initiative.

Rania Majdalawi Ahmed (27) is a trained architect. She works for the West Irbid municipal authorities within the scope of the Waste to Positive Energy (WTpE) project. Her work involves engaging with Jordanian and Syrian employees.

Ms Ahmed, you took a training course on mental health and psychosocial support in late 2020. What was the course like?
There were about 20 of us from different professional backgrounds. I, for instance, work in data entry for the municipal authorities in West Irbid. I document matters relating to employment in Cash for Work measures in the Waste to Positive Energy project. During the training course we learned about the impacts stress can have on everyday life and how stress management and self-care work. The course also looked at the role of the supervisor in providing support and improving the working environment.

What is the most important thing you learned?
The training course opened my eyes to a lot of things. I realised what sort of stress I might encounter in my life and how to respond. On a professional level, I learned how to deal with people who have experienced trauma and who are under pressure, perhaps because of financial worries or a death in the family.

Has that influenced your work with refugees from Syria and others?
Definitely. I gradually learned how to deal with CfW workers who are facing stress and coping with shock. I listen to their problems, show empathy in a professional manner, and work with them to identify solutions. In this way I build and strengthen their self-confidence. And we build trust between us. If the psychosocial situation is more dramatic, I now also know which experts I can refer people to.

Ms Lechner, what do you think about Rania Ahmed’s experience? Did the training course achieve its goal?
We encourage people like Rania, who work with the affected groups, to consider how the project should be implemented and what role they can play in fostering an empowering environment. If we manage to do that, we have already achieved a great deal. We do not expect a few workshops and discussions to remove the stigma attached to mental health, which runs deep in Jordanian society. But we have learned that MHPSS needs to be considered from the outset, for everyone involved, since it is almost impossible to make adjustments in the course of the project.

What changes can be seen?
A greater understanding of psychosocial needs and knowledge about MHPSS can have an impact on communication, for instance. It can give staff like Rania more self-confidence to address difficult situations throughout the project, allowing greater trust to develop on both sides.

What was the trigger that led to this approach?
In 2017, colleagues from GIZ’s Cash for Work projects approached us because their partners on the ground understandably felt out of their depth when workers came to them and shared traumatic experiences or current concerns. We wanted to respond to this.

Johanna Lechner (29) is a psychologist working in Jordan as an advisor to the regional project Psychosocial Support for Syrian and Iraqi Refugees and IDPs.

What should an ideal Cash for Work project look like that takes into account mental health and psychosocial support from the outset?
The overarching goal is to give workers a feeling of stability, future prospects and social connectedness – and to enhance their ability to deal with difficult living conditions. This could be achieved by lengthening the employment cycles – for both workers and partner staff. In our experience, it takes at least a year to stabilise people who have experienced violence and loss – such that they regain confidence in their own strength and abilities. It is also important to involve the local communities in the project objectives and to offer services to strengthen social cohesion. The example of the women’s compost-packing cooperative in Khaldije points in the right direction.

April 2021