In a country where mental health is stigmatized and far from fully understood, we are working to change this conversation with our children. Recently, we welcomed Dr. Robin Peterson to our campus to educate our teenagers on ways to address the challenges and changes they face as they transition into adolescence and adulthood. As a Clinical Psychologist working with communities across northern Tanzania for the past 20 years, Dr. Robin runs a practice, Chipuka Center, that offers a wide range of services including psychological, social, and emotional assessments for children, parents, and other vulnerable individuals.
With very few mental health professionals available in the Arusha region of Tanzania, Dr. Robin’s expertise is in high demand. The World Health Organization reports that over 2.5 million people in Tanzania are suffering from mental illness and only 20% have access to mental health care. In recognizing that many of our children have experienced some form of trauma before joining our forever family, it has become our priority to equip them with the tools to be healthy and happy.
Across two weekends at Rift Valley Children’s Village, Dr. Robin taught our secondary school students through a method known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT works to help people understand their relationship between feelings, behaviors, and environment and how each of these can be dealt with in a healthy way. “At RVCV all of the students in the secondary program were required to attend a workshop on ‘Self-Awareness Skills Training.’ They were given a forum to discuss concerns common to all of them and problems that they also see with others, which allows them to become a skilled resource for other students,” Dr. Robin said. Like adolescents everywhere, many of our children are embarking on new experiences that can be quite overwhelming: first days of high school, first years of college, and eventually living as an independent adult. At the same time, however, they are also grappling with questions about life before joining our RVCV family. Dr. Robin said, “In most cases CBT is effective over time and empowers students to take better care of themselves. Psychological problems consisting of depression, anxiety, sadness, anger and fear are better managed as a result, through skill-based training, getting better perspectives, and good information.” In the months following Dr. Robin’s training, we have seen our Secondary School students become more vocal in discussing concerns or problems with our Social Workers, staff, and their fellow peers.
With Dr. Robin’s assistance, we hope to prepare our kids to cope with relationships, feelings, and problems they encounter outside the safe environment of RVCV. By continuing to create a compassionate environment and conversation that de-stigmatizes mental health, we know that our children will also use their knowledge to assist others who are suffering.