Daring to Dream: Mental Health Support Lightens Emotional Load for Tigray’s Conflict-displaced Children

Daring to Dream: Mental Health Support Lightens Emotional Load for Tigray’s Conflict-displaced Children

Shire, Tigray –(storyteller.iom)— “I’m feeling happy.” These are the three words that Teddy, 12, wrote when asked by an Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) counsellor from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to describe how he feels at the moment. Only a day before, he wrote “I’m feeling scared.”

Teddy, a young conflict-displaced child, at an IOM MHPSS centre in Shire, Tigray. Photo: IOM/Kaye Viray

Teddy is among the 1.99 million people who have been displaced by the ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia. He lives in a crowded site in Shire, Tigray, which hosts thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

“My family and I fled our home for safety along with a big group of people. It happened so fast. I will never forget that day,” he says.

Teddy, like many children in the site, is distressed by the conflict. “Any sudden loud noise triggers them,” says a parent at the site. “One time, a truck unloaded some heavy rocks and made a gun-like sound. The kids who were playing nearby immediately ran to hide under a table, covering their ears and crying.”

Conflict-displaced children start the healing process at an IOM MHPSS centre in Shire, Tigray. Photo: IOM/Kaye Viray

Teddy participates in a weekly group counselling session led by IOM mental health professionals for young IDPs aged 10 to 16. These children can now start to decompress and heal from their experiences.

Like Teddy, many of them enjoy spending time at the IOM MHPSS centre which is equipped with games, toys and drawing materials, among other child-friendly entertainment. Despite the challenging environment in the heavily populated displacement site, IOM staff do their best to make each child feel reassured, heard, and safe.  

The IOM MHPSS centre is equipped with games, toys and drawing materials, among other child-friendly entertainment. Photo: IOM/Kaye Viray
Games, toys, drawing materials and other entertainment allow children to enjoy their days at IOM’s MHPSS centre. Photo: IOM/Kaye Viray
IOM established an MHPSS clinic in one of the IDP sites in Shire, Tigray. Photo: IOM/Kaye Viray
An IOM MHPSS counsellor has a one-on-one session with an IDP in Shire, Tigray. Photo: IOM/Kaye Viray

IOM MHPSS response in northern Ethiopia

IOM’s MHPSS initiatives are reaching emergency-affected, migrant, displaced, returnee populations and host communities using a flexible and community-based approach. To improve the physical health and mental well-being of those affected by the conflict, IOM has established an MHPSS fixed centre in one of the IDP sites in Shire, Tigray. By engaging in a variety of cultural and recreational activities, participants in the centres have an opportunity to interact with one another, share their stories, learn coping skills, and establish social networks. In addition, those experiencing psychological distress are identified and receive individual counselling in the centre by an IOM MHPSS counsellor. Alongside IOM’s medical clinic, the MHPSS centre receives hundreds of IDPs and even hosts community members weekly.

IOM MHPSS services in Shire displacement sites started in March 2021 focusing on psychoeducation, individual and family counselling sessions, psychological first aid, unaccompanied children support, family tracing, and mental health referral services.

“IOM believes that MHPSS activities should respond to the unique needs of individuals, families and communities, to help understand their capabilities and build a social environment which enables them to thrive,” says Amel Sahal, IOM’s MHPSS Programme Officer.

“This approach is based on the fact that human development, mental health and psychosocial well-being are closely intertwined with social relations, which are often disrupted in emergencies. Therefore, this type of intervention is critical, both during and after emergencies, to provide direct psychosocial support and build local capacity to improve the mental health of individuals and communities. So far, we have provided MHPSS services to over 15,500 people in northern Ethiopia.”

Apart from the fixed clinics, IOM’s health response is also being conducted through Mobile Health and Nutrition Teams (MHNTs) and MHPSS Teams that provide services using a mobile approach across northern Ethiopia. Staff provide medical consultations, basic sexual and reproductive health services, psychosocial services, screening and referral management for severe malnutrition among children, as well as health promotion including COVID-19 Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE).

More than 17,000 individuals have been reached so far with medical consultations and over 4,600 children screened for malnutrition, from which 241 malnutrition cases were identified and referred for management. IOM has also reached more than 76,000 individuals with key health messages through health promotion activities at facility and community levels and more than 1,300 women have received reproductive health services.

Apart from essential health delivery services, IOM is also supporting the Tigray Regional Health Bureau to prepare for disease outbreaks and is training government health workers. In Shire, IOM supported cholera preparedness training for 30 health workers, and the delivery of mental health Gap Action Programme – Humanitarian Intervention Guide (mhGAP-HIG) training for 34 health workers. To help further prepare for and respond to outbreaks, IOM is supporting Oral Cholera Vaccinations (OCV) across IDP sites in Mekelle and Shire, as well as COVID-19 vaccinations for IDPs in Shire.

IOM provides various health assistance to IDPs in northern Ethiopia. Photo: IOM/Kaye Viray

As Teddy played, he was asked about his aspirations and dreams. “I’d like to work as an IOM worker too, in the future,” he responds enthusiastically. “This centre has helped me and my friends a lot and I would like to do the same when I grow up! Maybe someday I can even be the director of IOM. Once school starts again, I will make sure to study hard to achieve this goal.”

Photo: IOM/Kaye Viray

IOM’s MHPSS response in northern Ethiopia is supported by the Government of Japan.

This story is written by Kaye Viray, Media and Communications Officer for IOM Ethiopia.