Friederike Bubenzer, Senior Project Leader

The work of mental health and psychosocial support workers as well as peacebuilders to heal and restore the social fabric that binds and supports people within their communities is essential for breaking cycles of violence and building sustainable peace. While it seems self-evident that these two fields would coordinate their efforts in order to enhance their impact, research by IJR points to the fact that the two fields work mostly in isolation from one another.

To address this, IJR has, over the last three years, led a research project aimed at narrowing the gap between MHPSS and PB. This project is based on the premise that war, conflict and the legacy of oppression such as colonisation and apartheid weaken the social fabric that governs relationships and the capacity for recovery. In the aftermath, the causes of interpersonal conflict might still exist, and may even have worsened as a result of violence during the conflict. The ability of individuals and societies to cope with such extraordinarily painful experiences and with the developed mistrust and fear is impressive but also limited. The breakdown of coping strategies is often related to the mistrust and fear caused by traumatic experiences, the compounding factor of exposure to different types of violence and the duration of the conflict situation. Due to the conflict, the natural ties, norms and bonds between people and within communities that strengthen coping and resilience are often destroyed or weakened.

To begin to bridge what is still a too significant divide, IJR has been hosting a series of co-creation workshops to bring together practitioners from both disciplines with the aim of contributing to an initial rapprochement.

In March IJR hosted a co-creation workshop in collaboration with GIZs Civil Peace Service in Kenya. The aim of the research to which this workshop contributed was to find evidence of whether and how linking organisations from both fields together, in a specific context ̶ so that they are working together in an integrated way from the outset ̶ will increase the psychosocial well-being of individuals and communities with the aim of achieving sustainable peace.  In order to test this hypothesis, an ‘integrated approach and methodology’ needs to be conceptualised, developed and implemented.

Throughout the workshop, extensive time was given to critically reflecting on the feasibility of implementing an integrated approach in Kenya. By working with local case studies generated by participants (Mount Elgon, Coast and the Rift Valley), participants were able to practically envisage the opportunities and challenges of working in a more cohesive way.

Participants continuously acknowledged the nature and extent of the synergies between the fields and emphasised the fact that they share some of their fundamental values an important basis for the development of an integrated approach. Developing opportunities for convergence through strategic networking, collaboration and training was specified as important for further boosting the complementarity in order to contribute to more sustainable outcomes for both fields.

Although the recognition of the need to work in a collaborative way was shared, participants acknowledged that they need more in-depth knowledge of each other; how to work together on the ground, within interventions and how to notice when, where and how to create a shared approach.

In this context, the issue of sequencing interventions during the collaboration stage came up frequently and was noted as a point to research further. Although the fields share fundamental values, it was also recognised that there is not enough knowledge about the other.

During the case study discussion, frequent reference was made to traditional leadership structures and to the rich and age-old indigenous knowledge systems which continue to play a central role in mediating and resolving community level conflicts in Kenya. Conducting research into these systems and understanding the extent to which they provide psychosocial support was identified as an important step towards building on available resources and strengths; thereby preventing duplication and/or the development of new initiatives.

IJR will be hosting the next co-creation workshop in Zimbabwe next month. It is anticipated that data collected from these workshops will lay the foundation for the development of a training on what is for now being called ‘psychosocial peacebuiling’. Watch this exciting space!!!