In the implementation of this pilot project, we are forever grateful to all our clients who brave their unique and individual storms, avail themselves, and allow us to be an integral part of their experiences as we assiduously work with them through their healing processes. To our clients, we declare that you are wonderful; it has been about you, and we believe in your ability and resilience. Thanks for allowing us into your ‘space’ to accompany on your path to psychological recovery.
This report would not have existed had we not been given the opportunity by our partners UNDP, INCHR, and others to diligently give back to Liberia and humanity via our service provisions. Partners, we are honored to have worked with and under your guidance to contribute to our National Healing.
To every technicians whose guidance has made positive impacts upon RESH and this project we are appreciative for your expertise.
Finally, to our hardworking staffers who answered the national call of service, went to those districts and worked gallantly to make Liberia a better place through the services they provided, we are proudest of you and have never doubted your quest and zest to serve mankind. We salute your passion to serve.
Liberians from all walks of life daily display a deep and visible sense of psychological related symptoms; these odds though overlooked by many, yet they are persistent, counter-productive, and require serious attentions. An alarming portion of our national psychosocial problems trace their roots to some sort of traumatic experiences mainly associated with the many civil unrests inflicted upon ourselves. Sadly, Liberia has catalogue of violence ranging from the very formation of our existence. The huge psychological scars left behind by our civil wars are so Herculean to the extent that the impacts are felt in every sector of our society. I am of the conviction that those in the rural areas though victims of some of the most heinous human right abuses and afflictions, yet the bulk of them have no access to psychosocial counseling neither are the stories of their ordeals and humiliation heard.
This pilot project which is a sprout of our National Truth & Reconciliation Commission did provide a life line for many untold stories to be heard; many wounded hearts to be healed; community cleansing initiated and reignited; fostered proactive traditional Liberian styled reconciliation, and serves as a learning process for future engagements and interventions.
The purpose of the INCHR as inscribed in its establishment 2005 Act of Legislation is to provide a mechanism and an avenue for addressing issues related to human rights in the country. Her function facilitates a truth recovery process that is aimed at reconciling with the past. Inherent in this process is a powerful psychological process that includes revisiting memories and events that are frequently difficult to tolerate. RESH buttresses the INCHR professionally to discharge her constitutional mandate by offering participatory psychosocial support to individuals involved in these processes.
In this pilot project, the UNDP/INCHR/RESH partnership achieved several rewarding objectives, cardinal amongst are the improvement of physical and mental health and improving family and social functioning of our beneficiaries thereby making our society a better place. A successful outcome of such objectives largely depended upon many factors like political legitimacy, dealing with the controversial issues of accountability for past wrongdoings, an efficient documentation system, the competent running of the process and support for all individuals involved.
This project description and implementation explore how the Palava Hut Hearings of the INCHR operated as a psychologically rehabilitative mechanism with the help of trained RESH psychosocial counselors and social workers back by therapists who can help facilitate the healing process for participants. RESH focused on the individuals who came into direct contact with the INCHR. Based on the argument that the hearing is not a sufficient process in itself to promote individual and collective psychological rehabilitation, RESH did advocate for and propose a wide range of psychosocial structures and strategies that should run parallel to the INCHR’s Palava Hut Hearings objectives to allow for a successful outcome and support for the individuals involved.
The INCHR’s PALAVA HUT HEARINGS PILOT PORJECT as a Psychological Healing Process
It was envisioned by the INCHR that a process of reconciliation will occur through establishing as complete a picture as possible of the causes, nature and extent of past human rights abuses. By locating and allowing the witnesses and victims of these abuses to relay their stories, a recovery process that includes the restoration of human and civil dignity can begin. This process will only be successful if the witnesses and victims are adequately supported and offered the support they deserve as survivors and citizens of Liberia.
Due to the fact RESH has been operational as a psychosocial services provision entity in Liberia since August 2014 under the guidance of some of Liberia’s finest professional psychosocial support professionals, an organizational infrastructure is already in place to begin offering requisite psychosocial support to the INCHR
1.2 Scope of Work
The provision of psychosocial related services to two (200) hundred statement givers partaking in the Palava Hut Hearings in the Tchien and Voinjama Districts in Grand Gedeh and Lofa Counties respectively for three (3) months.
Provide psychosocial support related services to commissioners and INCHR staffers experiencing PTSD as the result of the Palava Hut Hearings
Submission of a final report and development of a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the successes, challenges, and recommendations at a lesson learnt workshop as a post Palava Hut activity.
1.3 Project Purpose/Goals:
Supporting statement givers and sensitize the community to the INCHR process and objectives.
Prepare staff for and support staff after taking statements or participating in hearings.
Mitigate cumulative stress
Respond to other common stressors (quality of life issues, logistics, etc.)
To provide the requisite psychosocial support for witnesses and even witnesses who had to relive their horrible past via telling their stories.
Give Liberian psychosocial counselors and social workers the opportunity to be trained and given the platform to diligently serve humanity
Reconcile families and communities through our amicable traditional reconciliatory processes
To gather and analyze the data associated with our services provision thereby empowering us to make the essential recommendation which hopefully will guide policy makers to make psychosocial support related policies
After all the requisite arrangements as it relates to the RESH/INCHR Psychosocial Support Project were sorted out in an effort to get the involved parties agreed upon, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the donor UNDP-Liberia and RESH on the 14th November 2016. This document was available for review once officially signed by all parties and is attached to this report.
Based upon our submitted proposal and the signed MoU, our implementation took the methodological pattern:
Creation and signing of Memorandum of Understanding with the UNDP
Revision of Existing INCHR literature and documents both within Liberia as well as in reference to previously held INCHRs in other countries.
Staff Preparation (NSCs and INCHR Statement Takers)
Statement Giver Support Before and After Testimony
Staff Stress Mitigation Strategies
Data Collection to Assess Effectiveness of the Program
In Person Interviews of Key Personnel
Community Surveys with Needs Assessments
Review of Available Resources to Determine Feasibly Changes to Existing Policy
Systematic Analysis of Interview, Focus Group and Survey Results
Systematic Review of Level of Functioning Pre and Post INCHR Participation
2.0 Capacity Building
Once the MOU was solidified in early November 2016, RESH organized, trained, orientated and maintain a team of team of fifteen (15) staffers. One (1) clinical consultant/project, twelve (12) psychosocial counselors (NSCs two of which worked as regional coordinators), a finance officer and an M & E officer. RESH also conducted on-going refresher trainings for INCHR statement takers so that they have adequate interviewing skills allowing them to create trust with community members so that they can collect narratives about experiences atrocities of victims during the war.
Topics of inclusion: common reactions to talking about the traumatic experiences/bad things, normal reactions to abnormal events, coping strategies and psycho education about the INCHR processes.
Formal NSC Trainings Conducted for the INCHR:
Orientation to INCHR
INCHR Hearing Procedures
Motivation and Work Ethics
Counseling Principles and Ethics
Concepts of Psychopathology
Tracking Forms and Use
Screening and Assessment Interviews
Record Keeping and Basic Mgmt.
Working with Traumatized Staff
Advocacy & Protection Issues
Torture & Its Effects
Cognitive Behavioral Counseling
NSC training program:
RESH utilized an experiential training module. This intensive, hands-on training gave real-world experience to the counselors while providing high quality services to clients. Once counselors are adequately prepared, they were able to conduct counseling sessions with limited support and supervision by professional clinicians. Modifications of these training modules were given to INCHR statement takers, judges or other staff members so they have the requisite interviewing skills necessary to do their job.
2.1 Orientation and Deployment
RESH firmly believes in transparency in hiring practices. After the establishment of the partnership with the INCHR, we formally posted the job positions as vacant, organized an objective test for counselor selection, did a background check based of submitted references and interview the applicants. Only those applicants who met the minimum standard requirements were hired and trained for the provision of psychosocial support services under the auspices of RESH Liberia. Posts in the counties will be made based on language skills, needs and preferences.
After our one-month very intensive training and competitive vetting process, twelve (12) of the very best counselors were selected, orientated, and deployed to their respective duty stations in Lofa and Grand Gedeh Counties to diligently commence the provision of the requisite services as outlined in our MoU and taught our staffers. Besides, the counselors, the project management team did visit the earmarked duty stations for supervision and further supports.
Our services rendered in Grand Gedeh County targeted and benefitted clients from eighteen towns and villages in the Tchien District. While services rendered in Lofa County targeted and benefitted clients from at least nine villages and towns in Voinjama District.
The RESH/INCHR program was headquartered in Monrovia from where all staff at this office, did engage in coordination activities, delivered trainings, and supported the work of field teams.
Chapter Three (3)
3.0 Service Provision and Data Analyses-Grand Gedeh County
On December 15,2016 RESH Clinical team in Grand Gedeh County commenced work with 141 Clients, of this number, 71 are Perpetrators and 70 are witnesses, these clients received counseling in order to prepare them for the Palava Hut Hearings.
The clients were initially individually assessed upon their arrival at the safe house and prepared mentally for the public hearing/Palava hut hearings. After their testimonies, each clients were given post hearing counseling and profiled for further counseling which is being done on an individual basis or in the form of a group counseling session. In the county reviewed (Grand Gedeh), our psychosocial support team has as of date conducted four (4) group sessions and at least forty-four (42) individual counseling sessions.
Through the collaborative efforts of our counselors and partners, RESH gladly profiled at least nine (9) success stories which won’t be mentioned here because of clinical ethics but is being shared coded in this report’s addendum and with INCHR and will be shared with those going into the field to monitor and evaluate the quality of our works. Our success stories range from family cleansing and reunification; restitution of damage properties, forgiving a perpetrator and acceptance back into the village after he was banished for more than ten (10) years. The reconciliatory and healing methodologies employed yielded significant fruits as the results are very visible in the county; even the county’s leaders and leadership joyously attest to the prowess of the essence of the psychosocial supports given the citizenry of the county.
In our earnest quest to keep our counselors but physically and mentally healthy, we conducted refresher trainings before deployment and in-field refresher and de-briefing sessions with them during the period under review. The said sessions did enormously boast their own coping mechanism and gave them more reasons to assiduously give back quality services to mankind.
3.1 Service Provision and Data Analyses-Lofa County
During the period under review, the clinical team of RESH in partnership with INHCR has been working collaboratively to implement the PALAVA HUT HEARINGS Project in Lofa County which commenced on the 16th January 2017 and ended on the 27th January 2017. In Lofa, there was a Public Awareness Break held on the 24th January 2017 aimed at enhancing the sensitization of the masses so as to get both witnesses and perpetrators and others voluntarily showing up for the process. As people who were victimized during the civil crisis came out with complaints against those that perpetuated crimes against them, both the witnesses/witnesses and perpetrators were provided initial psychosocial counseling supports RESH’s counselors to emotionally prepare them before going to the Palava Hut where they will explain to the committee (usually headed by paramount or clan chief). They, thereafter continue to receive counseling either in the form of individual counseling or in group sessions.
The witnesses are brought overnight for the hearings, during this time they received brief counseling before the hearings while the perpetrators are brought during the same day, 2-3 hours before the hearings and they also receive brief counseling. All of the Perpetrators agreed to have carried out the crimes that were alleged against them but stress that they were under the influence of something or were forced to do what they did for their own survival, and if they had refused to execute what the commander ordered, the consequence could be death.
After admitting to the allegations, the committee chair will intervene and settle between them and at the end they will embrace one another, shake hands and walk out of the Palava Hut smiling and laughing. The allegations range from: Burning of rice kitchen, looting of properties, beating etc.
After the ten days Palava Hut Hearings, the counselors of RESH had to go back to the towns and conduct follow up counseling to the witnesses because of the symptoms they developed due to what happened to them during the war and by even asking them to explain their bitter experiences. Most of the witnesses are living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. From February 20th-22nd, 2017 our Lofa sites were visited from the 20th-25th February 2017 by an UNDP Monitoring Team headed Mr. Willie Davies and taken on tour to assess the level and quality of our service provision.
During the project in Lofa, the clinical team worked with 97 clients, among the 97 clients, 50 are male and 47 are female. Three perpetrators didn’t turn up for the hearings under the Palava Hut, therefore the total number that came for the hearings is 94. The perpetrators are all male.
These clients were initially assessed by our counselors before conducting the counseling session with them, and after the counseling sessions, the team conducted another follow up assessment to know the changes that occurred due to the counseling.
We focus on the following symptoms Somatic, Anxiety, Depression and PTSD. Our questionnaires have a scale of 1-4 and the clients can do the rating base on how they are feeling/or have been feeling for the past 2 weeks.
3.2 Lessons Learnt Consultation Phase of the Community-based Truth Telling, Atonement, and Psychosocial Program
From April 2-3, 2016 RESH attended and did a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation at the organized INCHR Palava Hut Pilot Project Lesson Learnt held at the Palm Springs Resort, Congo Town, Monrovia, Liberia. Highlighted in our presentation were the employed methodology used in our quest to diligently provide the requisite psychosocial services to our clients. In attendance at that consultative meeting were representatives from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Finance & Development Planning, the President Delivery Unit, UNMIL, Ministry of Gender, Children & Social Protection, the Liberian Media Democratic Institute, and VOSIEDA. Beneficiaries and traditional councils from Grand Gedeh and Lofa Counties were also present and expressed their profound gratitude to for the life reviving services they benefitted as the result of the services we rendered.
Adequate time was not being spent with perpetrators as compared to witnesses thereby giving them less time to go through their own healing process
Though a pilot project, the timing is very short considering the fact that clinical issues are not quick-service, thereby not giving the counselors the requisite minimum time to work with the clients
The involvement of community leadership and structure to enhance the community’s and clients’ awareness and confidence wasn’t sufficient thereby putting more pressure on the counselors who in most cases had to explain the entire Palava Hut Project.
The bulk of the beneficiaries seemed to have been promised compensation for their participation in the process, the said initially served as a barrier which took enormous persuasive skills.
Some of the villages are not easily assessing by car therefore motor bikes should be included in all future logistical plans.
Citizens from other districts felt left out, aggrieved, and vehemently expressed their frustration relative to the ardent need to be provided psychosocial services.
The implementation has proven to be a huge success owing to the glaring fact that one hundred and forty-one (Grand Gedeh-Seventy-one (an extra seventy (70) perpetrators were clinically profiled as witnesses/witnesses and Lofa- ninety-four (94)) long endured psychological wounds and visible enmity related cases were heard, assessed, treated, resolved, some are being earmarked for referral, and many more are being treated in the both counties.
Communities were healed, broken families were reconciled as the spirits of fear and retaliation were dealt with.
For once those clients had the rare opportunity to be heard as they painfully retold their torturous and horrible stories loaded with anguish, of course they had the platform to interact face-to-face with those who inflicted pains and agonies upon them.
Genuine reconciliation was initiated from our cultural perspective whereby the usage of public apology and the kola-nuts-breaking (signifying atonement) ceremony was performed. As for those cases which were/are reparation related, restitution was and are still being done.
Twelve (12) RESH Liberian psychosocial counselors and their INCHR counterparts were opportune to have benefitted from refresher trainings and de-briefing sessions enhance their skills and motivate them to diligently serve humanity via the provision of quality psychosocial supports.
As of this reporting, we have settled and currently conducted eleven (11) group counseling sessions and at least hundred-four (104) individual counseling sessions in Zwedru and Toffoi Town, Grand Gedeh and Vezala, Zawardamai, Kugbehmai, Malawo Town and Jonny Towns in Lofa County. And, other details are captured displayed via our graphical analyses.
Due to the limited time associated with conducting this phrase of the project and taking into consideration the healing process, we recommend that there be further extension to provide the platform for clinical healing and subsequent time to do follow up assessments with those that are being counseled and worked with.
During the period under review, perpetrators were not given the requisite care clinically and at times physically as this pilot project significantly focuses on the wellbeing of the victims or witnesses; the said is professionally wrong and disturbing because even perpetrators need quality psychosocial given that emotionally most if not all of them manifest alarming symptoms of PSTD and several traits of trauma and mental instability. RESH recommends that perpetrators’ wellbeing be highlighted and funded in any subsequent project.
The general timing issue of the entire project dragged so long and at such, almost everything related to this project had huge constrains which at most times put almost everyone under immense pressure to improvise to get the services delivered. We recommend that the set time as agreed or stipulated be adhered to so as to give all stakeholders the needed time and space to perform or provide their services without extensive stress and odds.