Art and creativity as elements of psychosocial support and mental health for migrants

Art and creativity as elements of psychosocial support and mental health for migrants
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Assistance programs for people in crisis situations have changed their focus from one based on the care and prevention of psychological symptoms, to one that involves the three spheres of the psychosocial approach model. This model contemplates the relations between mind and body, social and economic relations, and culture. In the case of migrants, psychosocial well-being has been closely linked to the concepts of identity and community, which include a person's sense of belonging, internalized social roles, adaptation to their cultural context, differences between social support models, among others. In that sense, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) experts suggest activities in which affected communities cease to be merely recipients of services created by actors outside the community, and instead become active agents of their own solutions, with the support of external actors.

The Manual on Community-Based Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergencies and Displacement, launched by IOM in mid-2019, introduces the principles of the MHPSS and describes specific activities to implement them on different axes, such as rituals and celebrations, sports and games, non-formal and informal education, among others. 

There are several benefits that have been identified in carrying out artistic interventions as part of the psychosocial approach model for emergency and displacement support. One of the main benefits is that these types of activities have the capacity to transform suffering, negative experiences and collective wounds into artistic and cultural productions that give new meaning to what has been lived. These activities can also strengthen social relationships at different levels (for example, family and community) and strengthen the resilience of individuals. The use of art (songs, videos, sculptures, paintings, poems) also allows metaphorical naming of themes that would otherwise be unmentionable, allowing new narratives to be introduced into larger segments of society.

Activities that can help healing

There are many creative and art-based activities that can be carried out to address the complex psychosocial situations that groups of migrants and displaced people go through. However, these activities must be suitable for the specific population group (taking into account age, gender, migratory history, identified psychosocial needs), the context and the resources available to them. With regard to staff, the use of professionals from various fields is promoted, including professionals in plastic arts, music and theater. In order to ensure the quality of the interventions, at the time of designing the activities, the place of the activity in the intervention pyramid (IASC) must be clear and incorporate the three spheres of the psychosocial model.

The Manual offers several examples of activities that can be implemented. Here are some possible creative and art-based activities for psychosocial support:

  • Theatre of the opressed: It is characterized by the active participation of the audience in the work or performance. An unresolved situation that oppresses an individual is presented. The scene is repeated a second time with the intervention of an experienced moderator to guide the interactions. During the repetition, members of the audience can stop the play, take the place of the oppressed character, and suggest another possible outcome of how the problem could be solved. In the case of migrant returnees, the theater of the oppressed can be an opportunity to sensitize communities about the problems they face, show solidarity, and create bonds.
  • Circus Arts: This type of activity has been used mainly for children and families. Circus arts can strengthen resilience, personal development and self-confidence. The circus arts allow a playful approach, through the use of clowns for example, to various psychosocial issues.
  • Collective narratives: In some cultures, speaking in the first person may not be as well received as speaking collectively. This dynamic allows the voices of community leaders who have a good reputation in a community to be raised.
  • Visual arts: Visual arts are a recurring resource for working with children and adolescents, but it is also useful with adults. These include everything from drawing, painting and sculpture, to photography and video, which makes it a valuable tool to express realities and ideas without using words. In Nigeria, for example, a combination of self-portraits and storytelling allowed for the strengthening of self-esteem and transformation capacity of affected migrant communities.
  • Storytelling: Stories allow people to connect with a group through identification with a given situation. It is a valuable emotional resource, since not only those who listen to the story learn, but it allows the storyteller to identify their value with their peers, who will be able to recognize common experiences.
  • Archives of Memory: In many parts of the world, archives of memory are created as a way to gain closure on past experiences and accept changes. It also serves as a way to honor victims and not forget the experiences that affected a group, community or even country. They make use of varied documentation, photographs, stories, personal objects and oral culture, among other forms of expression.

Activities to provide psychosocial assistance should always be designed for the specific context in which they will be carried out and for the needs of the people affected. It is necessary to have professionals who know how to direct the activities and recognize cultural differences, identifying if, for example, in a culture men will not participate in recreational activities, but in other types of artistic dynamics, or if women will have difficulties to feel comfortable in activities that are mostly bodily, so that the activities can be properly designed.

To look into the recommendations of IOM to make use of creative and artistic activities as a means to address the mental health and psychosocial well-being of migrants and displaced persons, as well as learn about other areas of intervention in SMAPS, we invite you to download this manual.

 


Strength in diversity: how inclusiveness contributes to disaster risk reduction

Strength in diversity: how inclusiveness contributes to disaster risk reduction
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Autor: Guest Contributor

Disasters due to natural hazards exact a heavy toll on the well-being and safety of persons, communities and countries. These disasters tend to be exacerbated by climate change, and are increasing in frequency and intensity, significantly impeding progress towards sustainable development, especially for most exposed countries.

It is critical to anticipate, plan for and reduce disaster risk to more effectively protect persons, communities and countries, their livelihoods, health, cultural heritage, socioeconomic assets and ecosystems, and thus strengthen their resilience.

According to a recent IOM study on human mobility and the climate agenda in the Americas, countries in the region have advanced in the integration of human mobility in national and regional policies and plans for disaster risk reduction, as well as in other related areas such as climate change, development planning, agricultural policy and housing.

However, in many cases the most vulnerable populations are excluded from contributing to disaster risk management policies and plans, thus suffering more disproportionately when disasters strike.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, which sets a series of guiding principles for States and other stakeholders in disaster risk reduction, stresses the importance of inclusive disaster risk management: “There has to be a broader and a more people-centered preventive approach to disaster risk. Disaster risk reduction practices need to be multi-hazard and multisectoral, inclusive and accessible in order to be efficient and effective.”

While Governments have a leading and regulatory role to play, they should engage with different groups including women, youth, persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples and other communities in the design and implementation of policies, plans and standards.

The framework notes the following opportunities:

  • Migrants contribute to the resilience of communities and societies, and their knowledge, skills and capacities can be useful in the design and implementation of disaster risk reduction;
  • Persons with disabilities and their organizations are critical in the assessment of disaster risk and in designing and implementing plans tailored to specific requirements, taking into consideration the principles of universal design;
  • Children and youth are agents of change and should be given the space to contribute to disaster risk reduction
  • Women and their participation are critical to effectively managing disaster risk and designing, resourcing and implementing gender-sensitive disaster risk reduction policies, plans and programmes; and adequate capacity building measures need to be taken to empower women for preparedness as well as to build their capacity to secure alternate means of livelihood in post-disaster situations;
  • Indigenous peoples, through their experience and traditional knowledge, provide an important contribution to the development and implementation of plans and mechanisms, including for early warning;
  • Older persons have years of knowledge, skills and wisdom, which are invaluable assets to reduce disaster risk, and they should be included in the design of policies, plans and mechanisms, including for early warning.

The inclusion of migrants and other communities can also contribute towards strengthening local capacities, advance an integrated agenda, strengthen local networks and expand the governance base of migration and climate change.

To turn these words into action, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) developed a companion for implementing the Sendai Framework Target, offering practical guidance to help Government authorities integrate disaster displacement and other related forms of human mobility into disaster risk reduction strategies at local and regional levels.

Similarly, The Migrants In Countries In Crisis Initiative (MICIC), developed a series of Principles, Guidelines, and Practices to strengthen local, national, regional, and international action to better protect migrants in countries experiencing conflicts or natural disasters. The Guidelines provide recommendations on how migration can contribute to resilience, recovery, and the well-being of affected communities and societies. These include practices for implementation, such as migrant-to-migrant learning, regional and cross-border contingency plans, and crisis alert systems. 

While public and private sectors, civil society organizations, academia and scientific and research institutions, communities and businesses can all work more closely together to create opportunities for collaboration, the rights of vulnerable groups should always be contemplated as part of holistic strategies for disaster risk management and climate change adaptation.