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We’re meeting emotional and psycho-social needs during outbreak

POSTED September 28, 2020

We’re meeting emotional and psycho-social needs during outbreak

Our country director in India shares how counsellors are providing much-needed support in Children Believe-supported communities

By Nancy Anabel, country director, India

Children practise yoga outside

As I write this, India is one of the countries with the most cases of COVID-19. National and state governments announced extensive lockdowns and restricted mobility, which paralyzed economic activities. Help is available, but those who work as informal daily-wage earners struggle to get the support they need to provide for their families.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates 42- to 66-million children could fall into extreme poverty due to the pandemic, adding to the estimated 386 million already in extreme poverty in 2019. This, coupled with the fact that children are not in school, is causing an added strain on vulnerable families.

Helplessness is translating to frustration, anger and household conflict. In some cases, the situation is deepening patriarchy, hurting gender and social norms and aggravating child-protection issues such as child marriage, child labour and other forms of gender-based violence.

Studies show a percentage point rise in poverty leads to at least a 0.7-percent-point increase in child labour, reports ILO and UNICEF. And, Childline — an India-based free phone service for children facing emergencies — reported a 17-percent increase in child marriage over the previous year.

This is all in line with what Children Believe is experiencing. Our local partners recently rescued an estimated 40 child labourers and 34 children from the risk of child marriages.

COVID-19 trampled the very foundation on which the people we help depend, closing off vital community resources. It’s raising levels of fear, anxiety and depression as the vulnerable feel more rejected and alone. And, this follows serious mental-health issues noted before the pandemic. The India government’s National Mental Health Survey, and the Global Burden of Disease study, estimated 10 percent to 200-million people in the country have experienced a mental-health issue or need mental-health support, respectively.

The birth of Children Believe’s psycho-social support program

There’s a clear psycho-social need, which we saw months ago when we formed a short-term online counselling and mentorship program to build a team of professionals to counsel community members.

Twenty partner staff members underwent online training and mentorship (10 modules — three hours each and five sessions on mentoring and support). They learned principles, techniques, skills and processes for counselling, including modules on child-counselling and community response, among other topics.

As part of the process, mental-health professionals, including counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists have made themselves available to provide support. We’ve also established a referral system.

A positive shift in their mental state

So far, more than 200 community members from villages where we work have accessed counselling services, including 115+ adults and 100+ children — mostly women and girls. Counsellors are helping people cope with COVID anxiety, fear and depression; education-related stress and fear of exams; child-protection issues, such as child marriage, child labour and abuse; depression due to economic loss; as well as family issues, domestic violence and alcoholism.

We’re glad to hear the support we’re providing is helping:

  • A nine-year-old sponsored child, who tested positive for COVID shared how fear gripped her as she heard other people dying from the illness around her. Counselling helped her redirect her focus to other tasks while our program team ensured she had the care and resources needed to recover from the virus.
  • We talked to a young couple headed for separation, as they struggled with caring for their children after losing their income. Timely counselling helped them address their conflict and provide an environment for children to grow with love and affection.
  • One girl who just completed 12th grade was being pushed into child marriage until she sought counselling for herself and her parents. She’s now moving forward with her education. “I am very happy, because I can continue my studies like other children,” she says.

Meeting physical, emotional and psychological needs

As the theory of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs emphasizes fulfilling basic needs, Children Believe has been doing the same. We’re providing physical, emotional and psychological support to 100,000+ community members in India through the pandemic.

So far, nearly 7,000 families have received food baskets and 16,000+ people received guidance accessing government benefits, such as loans and rations. And, as schools closed and children felt lonely, bored and frustrated, communities have helped 3,500+ children and youth safely share and learn with their peers in very small groups, while practising social-distancing. They’re accessing schoolbooks, TV and online learning as well as cultivating creative thinking through hobbies such as sand sculptures, crafting and more.

There are still challenges ahead, but we’re encouraged to see many children overcoming their fears and frustration, gaining hope to continue their education and moving forward with confidence.

To find our more about our response to COVID-19, visit childrenbelieve.ca/covid-19.

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ABOUT CHILDREN BELIEVE (formerly Christian Children's Fund of Canada):

Children Believe works globally to empower children to dream fearlessly, stand up for what they believe in — and be heard. For 60 years, we’ve brought together brave young dreamers, caring supporters and partners, and unabashed idealists. Together, we’re driven by a common belief: creating access to education — inside and outside of classrooms — is the most powerful tool children can use to change their world.