Collaboration and connection to support Somali youth mental health
We are beyond beyond thrilled to share the latest update from our partnership with the Elman Peace Centre (EPC): a Somali-led 5 Pillar community of practice for youth mental health!
The journey so far
Our work together began in 2018. The EPC, which creates locally driven enabling environments for peace-building while providing essential and innovative support for local youth, including disarmament, rape crisis, girls education, and human rights activism, joined the first Wave Alliance community. The Wave Alliance was the start of our partnership’s approach to enable increased and inclusive access to mental health promotion services in communities – such as Mogadishu – where there is a severe treatment gap. We train and support partners with local understanding and social capital to integrate our 5 Pillar approach to their existing impactful work, and to date have worked with 25+ partners in 13 countries through a variety of technical assistance, place-based, individual, and systems-change partnerships.
Based on the outcomes and learning of the initial surf therapy group – the first of its kind in Somalia and which included young girls and women – W4C, EPC, and external consultants developed a 5 Pillar coach training and behaviour-based curriculum which could transfer the positive impact happening at the beach to a variety of group activity contexts, including yoga classes, women’s only basketball teams, football, gardening sessions, and art therapy.
W4C provided ongoing training and support as the Elman team provided safe spaces, caring connections, and the opportunity to learn and master fun new activities and well-being promotion behaviours to participants across their Mogadishu programmes. Building on the EPC’s holistic and human-centred approach, trauma-informed methods and activities were embraced across the organisation: at a recent visit, we were lucky enough to witness participants leading their peers through mindful breathing activities during plumbing lessons, basic electrical upskilling classes, and chess club sessions.
Between 2020 and 2022, we worked closely, refining content and processes as we learnt through quantitative and qualitative research about both child and coach level outcomes. In 2021 and 2022, with the support of UNICEF, we expanded our scope to include Elman activities and staff in Dusmareb. To encourage sustainability and scale we trained two “master trainers” (who were also 5 Pillar coaches) in the Elman team, and finalised our resources for sharing widely. You can read more about the outcomes of the partnership in this report.
Opening the 5 Pillar community
In April 2023 the Elman team, with the support of W4C and UNICEF, ran a three-day 5 Pillars workshop for partners working in the child and youth protection sector in Mogadishu and beyond. 23 partners, including social workers, climate crisis relief providers, doctors, and members of INTERSOM working in newly recovered territories responded to the EPC’s open invitation to share their professional and personal experiences, knowledge, and solutions for providing essential mental health care to Somali youth.
The workshop, facilitated in Somali by the Elman team and held at the serene Peace Hotel during one of the hottest months, recognised how the impacts of the climate crisis, high unemployment, protracted social conflict, and high rates of GBV are more than material: they impact our cognitive functions, our social attachment styles, our behaviours, and our physical health. This aligns with global research and understanding that our environments influence our mental health.
Together, the group also explored how protective factors (such as caring adults and group physical activity) can reduce the negative impacts of toxic stress (which include increased anti-social behaviours and social dissolution, increased risk of non-communicable diseases, and reduced community development). These protective factors, when combined with the opportunity to learn and master behaviours and practices which support self-regulation, can increase agency over our mental health – which contributes to our self-esteem, self-reliance, and self-concept, creating a positive reinforcing cycle that can disrupt the harmful relationship between exposure to adversity and well-being.
A safe and stigma-free environment allowed curious and passionate conversations to intersect with the opportunity to learn new knowledge and have tangible experiences of the 5 Pillar activities. As the workshop progressed, partners continuously reinforced an expanded understanding of mental health beyond mental health challenges and illness (which can still be a common and stigmatised definition in many communities, including Somalia), to include a state of emotional, physical, and mental well-being which is not only the absence of illness and includes the ability to contribute to our communities, regulate our emotions and behaviours, and have healthy social attachments which both support individual well-being and contribute to social cohesion. Visitors to the workshop included UNICEF staff, and the former mayor of Mogadishu, who reiterated the importance of supporting youth mental health throughout the country.
The journey ahead
As the workshop wrapped, in recognition of the need for more health and well-being services, more collaboration, and more peer-support for frontline workers, the partners (who work with a varied population, including CAAFAG, unaccompanied youth, GBV and sexual abuse survivors, and youth experiencing climate crisis challenges) and the Elman team agreed to co-create a place-based youth-led pilot mental health community of practice which includes the Five Pillars at its foundation. Elman Peace, with the support of W4C, will support partners to integrate the 5 Pillars into their existing work, and evaluate outcomes for internal learning and to raise awareness and funds.
The workshop is a true highlight in W4C’s partnerships journey, and affirms our belief in the value of working closely with social purpose organisations who are trusted by the local population and can innovatively adapt the 5 Pillar approach to their local context, amplifying the uptake and adoption to have truly meaningful impact. We aim to align, not reproduce, and encourage individual mobilisation towards collective action through collaborative partnerships. Thanks to the trust, engagement, and hard work of the EPC team, and the support of UNICEF, we are honoured to contribute to mental health and well-being in Somalia. Stay tuned for our official training report, an Elman Peace campaign, and updates on the exciting and essential work ahead!