"30 Seconds In" - What do you think?

Tell us what you think about the  30 Seconds In  podcast!

Tell us what you think about the 30 Seconds In podcast!

Can you believe it?! Today marks the "30-second" day since our 30 Seconds In Launch Party. Since that time we've released 1 intro episode, 4 full episodes, and have recorded 4 additional episodes. As we strive to make our podcast and its content valuable to you, our loyal listeners, we want to hear from you. What have you liked? What haven't you liked? What would you like to hear more of? What can we do to attract others to tune in? We would love your feedback. If you have anything to comment on, please, leave a comment below this post and let us know what you think!

#GivingTuesday 2015

Today, during #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide, SalusWorld is asking its supporters to participate by donating to the SalusWorld cause. While we have made this ask and are grateful for each instance of generosity, we also recognize that some individuals may want to participate in other ways - perhaps ways that are more active or engaged in their nature. Comment below and share with the SalusWorld community how you are participating in #GivingTuesday in your own way! 

Volunteer Consultant Reflection: Veronica Laveta, MA

The following is a summary of my experience working with SalusWorld in Myanmar.  It highlights work being done with former political prisoners, trauma and peacebuilding work and my personal reflection on the SalusWorld model.  

Work with former political prisoners:

One of the most moving and meaningful aspects of my time in Myanmar/Burma was seeing the impact of the therapeutic training model on the former political prisoners who attended my first training, Basic Mental Health and Trauma Healing skills.  I watched them blossom over the course of the week from having restricted and cautious affect and clear tension in their bodies to fully participating with big smiles on their faces as they engaged in the activities and interacted with other members of the group. In meeting with them after they training was over, they remarked at how transformative the training was for them. They all said it helped them with socialization--since their release from prison, they have been having problems being around people and having difficulties with their families. The training gave them practice interacting, provided a sense of normalcy and a shared professional identity of “helper” and “counselor” with the others rather than solely an identity of “former political prisoners.” They also expressed that the training gave them hope that they can heal and they can help others heal and felt encouraged by this. The other participants also benefited in getting to know former political prisoners as people and colleagues, challenging assumptions they may have had about political prisoners. The former political prisoners are all are eager to continue to collaborate with SalusWorld in some capacity.

Trauma and Peacebuilding Training:

This training had the highest demand, with 36 people wanting to attend and 21 people being admitted to the training.  This speaks to the effects of the current changes in Myanmar and more media attention on topic such as peace and peacebuilding. The participants were remarkably open in identifying and discussing collective trauma in Myanmar including historical trauma, dictatorship, and the current ethnic conflicts. We did an extended case study and role play about the violence in Rakhine state that included conflict analysis, looking at root causes, and designing interventions from the perspective of different “teams” who might be involved at different stages of post conflict recovery. They seemed to understand that the situation is more complex than solely a “religious” conflict and they realize how politically motivated narratives can inflame conflicts. The participants’ sophistication and enthusiasm in developing interventions and action plans made me excited about this brave new cadre of peacebuilders!

Personal Reflections on the SalusWorld model

People are often understandably skeptical when they hear of a foreign “expert consultant” going to Myanmar to do trainings for a month since so often this type of training model done in isolation can be problematic. I had my own questions about whether a month would feel like a meaningful/valuable contribution that actually made a difference. Instead, my experience in Myanmar gave me so much pride and respect for the SalusWorld model. It made all the difference being there in the context of many years of SalusWorld relationship building with community based organizations and leaders; having an empowered staff on the ground who are deepening and expanding the work in critical ways; being on a team that embodies mutual respect and cross cultural learnings; and authentic collaborative processes and partnerships that truly meet the needs of participants and the community.

Because so often international development work is done so poorly and with the arrogance of outsiders, it is legitimate to ask, “what is the role of ‘outsiders’, if any?” I believe we are all part of a world community and have something to offer each other. Seeing the eagerness of the participants in the trainings who care so deeply about their communities and want the skills to help them but have little access to these resources that when done in partnership, my answer to this question is, yes, outsiders absolutely have something to offer when there are scarce resources. But the SalusWorld approach is not just about imparting information--we learn so much from what our partners are doing on the ground and how they are adapting the material to fit their context. The evolution of the Sharing Circles is a great example of how the local staff owned and truly developed a best practice that can be useful for other communities and organizations in Myanmar and the U.S. This bilateral exchange of knowledge is what makes the SalusWorld approach so different than other models. My experience in Myanmar energized me about this work and the vision of SalusWorld.


Volunteer Consultant Reflection: Rachele Vogel, M.A., Psy.D. Candidate

Reflecting on my time abroad with SalusWorld, my mind wanders to the many incredible people who contributed to my experience. From those who supported my decision to those I met along the way. The people I met working for Salus helped me so much more than I could have ever helped them it is astonishing. With an intention of wanting to help, this can be difficult to sit with, but it is exactly what happened.

Today I stand braver, more confident, and grounded than the day I left. I attribute part of this to a decision of mindfulness and awareness. Before departing for Southeast Asia, I chose to carry a saying from a yoga class that spoke to me – “Learn to be comfortable when you are uncomfortable. “ I asked myself to sit with any feelings of fear, anger, or angst in a non-judgmental way and look deeper at why they were present. I discovered I had choices, and I leaned how a simple shift in perspective could profoundly change an experience.

My history and involvement with SalusWorld is unique. As SalusWorld’s first intern, I chose to take a year between earning a Masters in Forensic Psychology and pursuing a doctoral program to learn about international psychology. From the moment met I Elaine and listened to Gwen present on her international experiences, I wanted work beside them. Determined and eager to learn, they welcomed me into their staff meetings. I did my best to help with what I could, but conceptualizing their Southeast Asia projects from Denver was difficult for me. As I learned about the organizational structure, inner workings, and hurdles of running a non-profit, I set a goal of also learning about SalusWorld in the field.

An exciting and unexpected opportunity came about in October of 2011. I had time to go to Southeast Asia, shadow our professional consultants and work with our local teams. Gwen and Elaine gave me their blessing and sent me on my way… For the first time I would be traveling not a backpacker but as a professional representing an organization I felt connected to. This was exciting, frightening, and liberating all tangled into one.

For a month I lived in Northern Thailand with consultant Mykell Winterowd. She explained everything she could to me about the Fortune Mental Health Team- from the development of program, to the roles of different members, to the struggles and successes of the team.  I feel I had it easy because she was there to answer my thousands of questions in English. I didn’t have to sit with them and speculate what as going on. This being her fourth visit, she understood the team better than I ever could in a month and bridged their trust in me. Within days, the community had accepted me and I felt like I’d been there before.

I discovered my love for teaching during this time. I was asked by a community leader to teach English to small group of high school students. Much to my surprise, my classes grew with children yearning to learn. The more time I spent with them, the more connected I felt connected to the community. Together my students and I learned to work with one another. They began to trust the classroom environment and take risks. They spoke up in class, participated in group activities, and encouraged brainstorming fun ways to encourage learning. As I watched them smile, I realized they were helping me much more than I ever could them. These children taught me to believe in myself and to look at myself through a different lens. From this experience, I gained confidence, compassion, and love for my inner being.

After Thailand, I traveled to Burma for Eda Spielman’s training. I’d met Eda briefly when she come to Boulder for her pre-departure training, but I had no idea another incredible friendship would develop from my time with her. As I listened to her present and soaked in differences our two projects, I couldn’t help but be humbled by the experience. After living in a community that spoke very little English and trying to understand their culture, I was sitting in a room with Burmese professionals who could explain, process, and reflect on their life with the information Eda gave them.

Every single person I met welcomed me to the group like I was family. I developed a great friendship with a young woman who guided me around Yangon, explaining Burmese traditions, religious beliefs, and different ways of life to me with patience. She invited me into her home, where over dinner with her sister, roommates, and close friends we shared enlightening conversations and laughter. I remember it as authentic and real. As a group of young, liberal minded adults, we discussed current events, controversial issues and shared perspectives on one another’s cultural differences. I left dinner that evening with new friends and a very unique understanding of life inside Burma.

I believe I am a better version of me having gained this experience… AND I am excited to share that I will be returning at the end of the month!! Thanks to Mary’s generous donation combined with Gwen and Elaine’s belief in me, I am going back to run a program I developed after teaching English in Waing Wai. There is no greater gift that being able to learn about my field from exceptional mentors, being encouraged and trusted by those you look up to, and knowing that the community you are going back too looks forward to your return. I am eternally grateful for everyone who has supported my unique approach to finding a career and for the experiences still to come. I strive to never sit where I am only comfortable and to always be growing.

Thank You from our Partner Wola Nani

Dear Elaine,

I wish to take this opportunity before Courtney leaves to express my sincerest and heartfelt appreciation for the work of Courtney here at Wola Nani. She is not only very professional, but also very warm and empathetic towards staff and clients. It is not easy to put down on paper just how we have clicked (in my capacity as director asa well as on a personal level). Courtney has already given some very important, timely and much needed input into this organisation. We are already beginning to suffer withdrawal symptoms in anticipation of her leaving us.

Seriously, I have asked her to find funding in the US for a more extensive period at Wola Nani as a resident psychologist and OVC programme developer. That of course is up to Courtney and I don't really expect her to give up her life for us.

I would like to comment on your programme as a whole and say that we did find it so worthwhile and should you have any further volunteers, I and many organisations here would definitely derive benefit from this programme.

I shall give you more substantial feedback when Courtney's time with us ends.

With much appreciation,


Volunteer Consultant Reflection: Eda Spielman Psy.D.


On Christmas Day, 2011, I headed halfway around the world, across many time zones and far out of my comfort zone to volunteer in Southeast Asia as a mental health consultant with SalusWorld.  I had first contacted Gwen Vogel and Elaine Hanson the previous spring when I was exploring opportunities for a mini-sabbatical I was taking from my work as clinical director of the Center for Early Relationship Support at Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Boston. I was interested in finding a way to bring my skills in training and clinical work with parents and young children to another part of the world.  I was particularly drawn to the SalusWorld focus on sustainability in using consultants to build local capacity rather than provide direct service.  The match with Salus seemed to have great potential—they were interested in my specialization in early childhood mental health and I was excited by the possibility of travel-with-a-purpose to Burma and Thailand, a part of the world that was completely new to me.

 I had many questions before going and spent hours talking with colleagues and developing my plans for the training.  I looked to find ways to translate the concepts that underlie the work of our Center for Early Relationship Support to young, inexperienced (but open and eager) community providers half a world away.  What parts of our approach to understanding, supporting and healing parents and young children can have meaning across differences of language, culture and historical context? I approached the training weeks in Yangon, Burma and Fang, Thailand as an opportunity to explore these wonderings and foster dialogue with training participants. I learned so many things, felt challenged before and during the trip, met amazing, dedicated local participants and accomplished my personal and professional goals in moving beyond my comfort zone and offering my head and heart knowledge to others.

The experience was incredibly rich in terms of my learning and was deeply affirming in terms of the value of the training. I found that the core ideas that have guided my work for many years can be meaningful and useful in both personal and professional ways, even when translated from English to Thai to Shan (as was necessary in the northern Thai village)! Training participants offered feedback at the end of the training in Burma, sharing the varied lessons they would carry with them into their lives and work. Some spoke of new insights about child development they would discuss with co-workers; others talked about more personal effects on their own relationships.  The common themes centered on new understandings about the fragility and emotional life of even very small babies and the ways that external behavior reflects internal meaning.  One participant summed up her learning with a quote in the baby’s imagined voice from a book I had shared with them: “I may be small but I feel it all.”

In my role as trainer, there were many lessons as well.  I learned that if I wanted full participation I needed to accept that some students would speak in Burmese, leaving me feeling left out at times of the more heated, or humorous, interactions. I learned that my usual long-winded style of explanations had to be dramatically abbreviated and that putting things in writing was a great way to promote clarity.  I learned that when I asked for students’ thoughts, I was met with silence because I needed to be explicit that I wanted them to not just have thoughts but to discuss them! 

On a more emotional level, I learned that it’s a big and varied world out there with so much to experience and to share.  But also that there are tremendous commonalities across these different worlds and that the language of relationships and their power to hurt or heal is one that can transcend boundaries of nations, cultures and dialects.

Volunteer Consultant Reflection: Dr. Ben Molland, San Francisco, CA


I’m writing this reflection piece primarily to give the reader a feeling for what it might be like to be a volunteer for SalusWorld. Of course I can only speak about my experience, but hopefully my perspective will provide an extra layer of insight into what you might encounter should you choose to make the leap.

First, a bit about myself. I am young psychologist, having recently completed my post-doctoral year and now currently working as a staff psychologist at a university counseling center on the East Coast of the United States. I have worked and lived abroad as a mental health professional in the past, but I had (previous to this experience) not done so since 2007, when I entered graduate school to earn my doctorate. I might add that I was neither married nor had children in 2007, which I think presents its own set of complications for doing international work. Spending the last 5 years focused on the rigors of family planning and graduate school probably resulted an over-reliance on planfulness and an under-appreciation of risk-taking and improvisation. I admit to some trepidation about being able to return to the international work as I felt a bit out of touch with practical experience in international settings.

Having this trepidation reminded me of why I am drawn to the work. For me, one of the most valuable aspects of international work (or travel for that matter) is that it reminds you of those admirable traits that are often dulled due to underuse in daily professional or personal life (i.e. flexibility, courage, adventurousness, improvisation). It takes some time and effort, but once you submit to the idea that there are few hard and fast rules to living and working cross culturally, then the lack of predictability becomes enjoyable and instructive rather than burdensome and anxiety producing. Personally, it’s not as easy for me to hit the ground running in this regard, but it always makes it easier when one has a working or living environment which encourages this awakening.

As a SalusWorld trainer, I led four 2-day workshops covering a range of mental health topics. I feel strongly that the dynamic nature of the work helped me shake off whatever cobwebs or trepidation I might have had. Complications arose as they always do – most often language barriers and cultural divides that took time and a little bit of improvisational skill to circumvent. The Salus team and workshop participants helped show me the way. They translated when necessary, explained cultural gaps and waited patiently until I found the right words to describe particularly difficult concepts. Tea breaks provided unique opportunities to discuss a broad range of topics, from history and politics to Burmese pop music and the perils of being in Yangon without an umbrella in the rainy season. Over the course of the workshops, I found myself encouraging more discussion and paying less attention to the Powerpoints that I had labored over stateside. In short, every workshop provided an opportunity to explore and improvise a bit more, to push my own capacities as trainer and clinician.

As a psychologist at a college counseling center, I spend the majority of my week providing psychotherapy services, often without much time left for the professional world outside of the center or campus. There is something uniquely rejuvenating about being able to move so dramatically outside of one’s common experience and make contact with novel cultural and intellectual traditions. Working cross-culturally is a mind-bending exercise that, at least for me, naturally inspires reflective thought about the ways my own training and experience can be applied differently, or at least challenged and evaluated through a new lens. As an example, in working with and speaking to college age Burmese youth, I couldn’t help but be struck by the different ways in which fundamental developmental processes are experienced. While such a realization can be had via articles and books, there is little doubt for me that firsthand experience of such cultural differences is a much more impactful vehicle for learning, which makes it all the more likely that I will carry these lessons with me to the work I do in the future.

I feel I should say a few words about living in Myanmar in general. I was aware of the changing socio-political environment in Myanmar before I arrived, but was very much surprised by how rapidly some of the changes were being brought about, whether those were economic, social, or political in nature. I was fortunate enough to be able to discuss these changes with not only the local SalusWorld staff, but also with the diversity of shopowners, taxi drivers, expats, and locals with whom I came in contact. I found these conversations fascinating, as they highlighted the fluid and, at times, uncertain nature of the country’s development which made redundant most of the “up to date”” literature or guidebooks that I had consulted before departing. Being on the ground and witnessing these changes in real time was, for me, a profoundly unique, exciting, and humbling experience. And it also underscored for me one of the most rewarding parts of volunteer work in international settings – the privilege to be witness to (and at times a participant along with) communities and populations that are exploring new ways of coping with and managing massive societal change. You can’t help but feel stimulated and provoked by such an experience, and I view it as a vital piece of being a more dynamic and inspired professional when I return to the work I do at home.

In general, I found the experience with SalusWorld to be invigorating and challenging as well as especially valuable to my development as a clinician in both international and domestic settings.  I have little doubt that other volunteers share these same thoughts or feelings. Many thanks to all the SalusWorld staff for making my experience a memorable one. Best of luck to those who choose to volunteer or work with SalusWorld in the future.


Income is only part of the equation: Sustainable outcomes involve the whole person not just the pocketbook


Microcredit has proven it’s potential to generate results and has received broad recognition since Muhammad Yunus, the godfather of microcredit, was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his accomplishments.  However the microcredit world may be underestimating the deliberating effect of one issue – the mental health and stability of the borrower.  There is increasing evidence of an association between poor mental health and the experience of poverty and deprivation whether at the individual level or the ecological level (Burgess et al, 1992; Jarman, 1992; Kammerling and O’Connor, 1993). There is also a growing body of literature exploring the association between suicide, parasuicide and deprivation (Gunnell et al, 1995; Congdon, 1996). Research has also discovered that factors such as the experience of insecurity and hopelessness, rapid social change and the risks of violence and physical ill-health may also explain the great vulnerability of the poor to common mental disorders.

Heath experts are sending out an international alert that mental health problems are dramatically increasing worldwide with the World Health Organization (WHO) warning that depression is set to become the main cause of disability and second leading heath problem by 2020.  The direct and indirect costs of mental ill-health worsen the economic condition, setting up a vicious cycle of poverty and mental disorder. These findings suggest that common mental disorders need to be placed alongside other diseases associated with poverty by policy-makers and donors, a position that we at SalusWorld high support.  Women, in particular, are apt to face significant barriers to achieving sustained increases in income and improving their status, and require complementary support in other areas, such as training, marketing, literacy, relationship strain, grief and loss, empowerment, social mobilization, psychological support and other financial services (e.g., consumption loans, savings).

Change, even when welcomed and eagerly anticipated, requires adaptation and adjustment to unforeseen consequences, emotional, logistical and interpersonal.  This adaptation can range from a welcome challenge to moments fraught with unhappiness and discomfort.  Anticipation of these unintended consequences and support during their impact can compound the growth that occurs not only for the individual for whom change is occurring but also reaching beyond the individual to the family, the community and beyond.

This post is aimed at highlighting some of the core issues that have surfaced in the body of ‘lessons learned’ documents within the microcredit world.  It is also aimed at sparking discussion, and creating increased awareness about the psycho-social impacts of microcredit lending and suggesting a multidisciplinary model that will support the individuals and communities undergoing the welcome challenge of micro-credit lending.

According to an analysis of outcome data, microcredit produces stronger results in combination with other interventions.  This makes sense since poverty is not solely a matter of lack of income or lack of access to sustainable financial services. A UNESCO report states that “The complex process of poverty eradication cannot be resolved by successful intervention in any one area. Today, one fifth (more than a billion) of the world’s population deprived of the means to meet basic human needs, are struggling to cope, to survive. To reduce the vulnerability and the insecurity of the poor and to bring lasting improvements in their lives, they must have not only a secure livelihood but must also benefit from investment in education, health and other essential services, which are all interrelated and important to well-being.”

An effective strategy for poverty alleviation would thereby be achieved, going beyond financial and economic considerations and taking into account the social, cultural individual and community dimensions of development.


Psycho-social implications of Change

Poor people stress the anxiety and fear they experience because they feel insecure and vulnerable when their conditions worsen. Security is defined as stability and continuation of livelihood, predictability of relationships, feeling safe and belonging to a social group.  The psychological impact of living in poverty is mediated by shame, stigma and the humiliation of poverty.

In a touching and informative book, Voices of the Poor, the World Bank describes this complex process of change.  “Social norms and institutions are the key obstacles faced by poor women and men as they attempt to eke out a livelihood against the odds. Poor people’s experiences demonstrate again and again that informal rules or social norms are deeply embedded in society, and that “rules in use” override formal rules.  It is precisely because of the embeddedness of social norms that change in one part of a bureaucratic social system cannot bring about [lasting] systemic changes. In fact, a change in one part of a system merely creates resistance in the system until “order” is restored. This phenomenon is evident at all levels from the household to national level.  Poor people’s experiences reflect fundamental inequities in power among different social groups, and a lack of “bridges” or horizontal linkages between those more powerful and those without power. This unprecedented study, published in 2000, was an effort to gather the views, experiences, and aspirations of more than 60,000 poor men and women from 60 countries.
Their findings were organized around the themes they found in these interviews.  Among the most important were

  • Troubled relations within the household
  • Gender inequity on all levels: family, community, state
  • Limited presence and outreach of NGOs
  • Organization of the poor
  • Difficulties based on lack of holistic, interdisciplinary change strategies

While we, at SalusWorld, do not advocate interventions without knowledge of a specific community, we do advocate paying attention to how these subjective factors (or others) affect the recipients of Microcredit programs.  With increasing suicide rates and domestic violence in households where there has been a shift in power and control secondary to microcredit programs, we think it is necessary to consider a more holistic and systems approach to look at and facilitate change and transition.


Collaborative Strategy

Despite the efforts of many committed individuals within governments, civil society, and international organizations who work in partnership with poor people, institutional encounters, rather than providing essential services and opportunities, leave poor people disempowered, excluded, and silenced. It is this crisis that has created the opportunity for rethinking development strategies to reach the poor.  Changing poor people’s lives for the better is inherently complex because poverty is never caused by the lack of one thing. It involves many interrelated elements which speaks to the need for organizations who help the poor to be interrelated.  It is for this reason that our strategy calls for an approach that is not an add-on to existing programs but is fully integrated across micro-finance activities in the field.

Signs are already evident that the trend is away from social mobilization, and leaning towards minimalist credit. BRAC, for example, has shortened the conscientization stage and reduced savings provisions and time pre-requisites before disbursing loans (Wood and Sharif 1997, p.35). Montgomery reports a shift in BRAC “from a relatively egalitarian and participatory mode to a more hierarchical and managerial mode” (Montgomery, 1996, p. 299). He refers to this as a shift from `bhai` (brother) culture to `sir` culture, and warns that this may be a forewarning of the possible institutional changes as organizations grow. Even authors who argue in favor of microcredit’s “empowering” impact readily admit that “other components such as social and political consciousness-raising, literacy training and skill development have been increasingly downplayed” (Hashemi et al., 1996).

This joint effort can prevent that shift from happening without taking resources away from growing microcredit programs.  It would also alleviate many of the shortcomings found in NGO’s (like us) and larger institutions (like banks) and emphasize the strength of both.  Some of the problems experienced by NGOs are due to uncertain, short-term funding and limited capacity to fulfill well- meant promises.  At the same time NGOs are identified as the only ones “who really care.”  Often, larger social institutions that shape civic and economic life can lose touch with the day to day more personal contact so necessary to evaluate and facilitate long term change.  Yet, they are the ones who are in positions of power and economic solvency.  We propose that this would be a good marriage.


SalusWorld’s Role

Throughout the course of our deliberations we have identified a number of critical issues that could benefit mircocredit borrowers and guide the lenders practice in micro-enterprise support. First, it is essential to start with poor people’s realities

So that any applied program is relevant and applicable.  Secondly, we all must work within the current social norms.  Thirdly, we must support the development of the entrepreneurs and organize this group in such a way that a new and healthy support system is made for this individuals who are now playing a new role in their family and in their community.  Finally, we must create links and relationships between the poor and larger social systems whether this is the community, the microcredit lender, or the state, thus giving the poor a voice and a venue.

SalusWorld works as consultant and a context bases assessment of the issues before presenting a menu of options for the lender to support country-led efforts to achieve the goal of successful transition out of poverty.  Our group of mental health clinicians is developing an innovative consultation program aimed at addressing the mental, emotional, and spiritual and relationship problems of microcredit beneficiaries and their families, using culturally sensitive psychological approaches.

Our programs will invite your borrowers to join one another to share experiences and stories, struggles and breakthroughs in an atmosphere of mutual support, safety and trust; to learn new tools such as mindfulness meditation for reducing stress and anxiety and enhancing well-being; to improve communication and relationships; to speak what can not be spoken; to address a continuum of problems, including those that may or may not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD, depression or anxiety; and to tend to the wounds of heart, mind, identity, spirit, and relationships that can shatter the foundation and meaning of our lives.  Depending on context and community, we work with families, spouses who might be effected by the new gender roles, children by the new family roles

Our interventions would start with a needs assessment and interviews with key informants from your established programs.  Together, with the community of beneficiaries, we would work on creating ways to raise awareness and appreciation for the impacts of service on the lives of your business growers and developers.

REFLECT NEWSLETTER - Update from our Country Coordinator & Heal the World

New Heal the world staff (Elizabeth and Zeyar)

New Heal the world staff (Elizabeth and Zeyar)

Four Myanmar staff and one American brave the messiness, the miscommunication, and the Yangon traffic to bring free mental health services to the most marginalized populations in Yangon.

The first two months of our grant has been productive for Heal the World. Led by veteran staff, Thiri and Nweni, our team managed to secure an office in a quiet corner of Downtown Yangon near Bo Ta Taung Pagoda. Our office came equipped with aircon and a ground level Nepali restaurant that we frequent almost daily. We have also recently hired two new part-time staff (Zeyar and Elizabeth), and we are very excited about what they bring to our team.

With the new office and staff secured, our team worked hard to get the sharing circle program off the ground. Sharing circles are what I would consider semi-structured support groups; there are activities planned for every week, but there is plenty of space for group members to share and interact with each other. Relatively quickly, we were able to launch a sharing circle with women who are or have been involved in commercial sex work in Yangon. These women have felt particularly comfortable with our facilitators and have opened up very quickly on an emotional level. During one of the most recent sharing circles with this group the facilitators led a “river of life” activity. In this activity the participants draw a timeline of their lives noting the high points and low points. Every participant then shares their river of life with the group. There was much laughter and also many tears, as participants shared the sorrows and joys of what they have been through in life.

                                                                                                               Heal the World Team at our office warming party

                                                                                                               Heal the World Team at our office warming party

Apart from this sharing circle our team has been very busy rekindling community contacts to start sharing circles with other populations (LGBTQ, Former Political Prisoners, People Living with HIV/AIDS). We are also actively networking with peacebuilding organizations to integrate a mental health/trauma informed training for their staff and a workshop for their participants.

There have been several challenges along the way from language barriers to inconsistent internet access to shifting network relationships, but as a team we are practicing patience, learning how to operate more efficiently, and moving forward despite the obstacles.

Colorado Craft for a Cause - April 24, 2015

CO Craft for Cause

Seven recognized Colorado home-brewers are coming together in the heart of the RiNo Art District to pour their delicious creations and help raise money for an amazing cause.  Sip great beer, sign up for silent auction goodies from around RiNo, and learn how you can support mental wellbeing in Myanmar.

  • When: Friday, April 24, 2015 from 5-7 p.m.
  • Where: Posner Center for International Development, 1031 33rd St, Denver, CO 80205
  • Tickets: Regular - $25 in advance // $30 at the door
                  Students - $15 in advance // $20 at the door

Proceeds from the event will benefit SalusWorld, dedicated to the well-being of individuals and communities recovering from conflict and emergencies through innovative mental health interventions.

Show your support for SalusWorld by being a brewer or taking part in the silent auction! For more information contact Gwen Vogel at gvogel@salusworld.org.


Dr. Vogel Mitchell in the Guardian

Vogel in Guardian blog pic

People Hurt. People Help. Everyone is Impacted.

SalusWorld understands that caring for individuals impacted by violence, displacement, illness, and poverty can make huge emotional demands on those who perform these tasks.  In doing this crucial work, the personal consequences can be severe.  Through their professional work, aid and development workers can suffer a special kind of vicarious trauma as a result of prolonged exposure to environmental stressors.  Aid workers can face such challenges as depression, anxiety, isolation, frequent or increased illness, and often a shift from optimism to helplessness.  Our training provides ideas, methods, and tools that support the practical needs, and the spirits, of aid and development workers worldwide. Follow the link below to read more:


The Psychological Impact of War

psychological impact of war blog pic

In July 2013, actress Angelina Jolie spoke out against rape as a weapon of war, urging a Japanese audience to join her fight to stop sexual violence in war zones. “Our aim must be to shatter impunity, so that rape can no longer be used as a weapon of war anywhere in the world as it was in Bosnia, and as it is today from Congo to Syria,” she said. Jolie serves as special envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.  Her statement about rape as a weapon of war is an issue close to SalusWorld’s heart as we see and understand the psychological damage such assaults can have on an individual, their family, and society.

The 20th century represents the most war-ridden century in recorded history and the most lethal for civilian deaths from war. The Red Cross (1999) estimates a total that about 40 million people killed in war and conflicts since WWII.  While the number of civilian casualties is great, the numbers do not begin to capture the masses of civilians who suffer the psychological, and often invisible, scars of war. The effect of war on civilians involves multiple traumas over time and includes events such as rape, torture, forced labor, conscription as a child solider, assault, and displacement. Like Jolie pointed out, civilians, specifically women and children, are victims of extreme violence and witness extreme acts of violence directed toward self and others and the impact of such experiences can result in deep psychological scars (Hanson & Vogel, 2012). Psychological and emotional injuries may be the most enduring effects of war, yet historically, they may be the least addressed in terms of rebuilding a society and preventing future violence.

While communicable diseases continue to represent the leading cause of disease burden in resource-poor areas, non-communicable diseases are becoming increasingly more significant as causes of disability and premature death. In particular, unipolar depression is the third leading cause of disease burden worldwide – representing 4.3% of total disability-adjusted life years; and, the WHO predicts mental illness collectively will become the second leading cause of disease burden by the year 2020 (WHO, 2001) compromising 15% of the disease burden.

Perhaps there is a relationship between war and global mental health statistics. To date, large-scale recovery efforts commonly have focused on more visible needs such as food, shelter, clothing, and physical health, as well as economic aid. Psychological trauma and disease have been overlooked or minimized, leading to their becoming part of the psyche of a society that extends into future generations.

Mental illness is one of the great invisible burdens on developing societies, accounting for four of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide.  In emergencies and oppressive regimens, the problem is even greater, as the number of people suffering from severe mental disorders increases and those with pre-existing mental illnesses are exposed to new levels of stress and human rights violations.  SalusWorld understands the devastating effect that mental illness has on the world’s poorest nations and nation’s touched by war. As part of its holistic approach to health, SalusWorld incorporates mental health and well-being into its programs to address the psychosocial needs of disaster survivors and help those with pre-existing mental disorders.

As one of the very few international relief organizations to make mental health care a priority, SalusWorld has the capacity to identify and treat those with pre-existing mental health disorders as well as train and build the capacity of local providers in the service of creating a sustainable model.

In Myanmar and Northern Thailand extreme human rights abuses are targeted at civilians in an effort to silence communities through fear. Healing must also occur on both a societal and individual level. In populations recovering from extreme civil oppression and neglect or civil conflicts (as in Shan relocated to Thailand), reconciliation requires attention to the psychosocial needs of the survivors.  The failure to address mental health problems can lead to emotional and behavioral problems and functional impairment. It can also prevent the solidification of social justice and functional civil societies. 

Four years ago SalusWorld began to train paraprofessionals in the areas of mental health services and emotional healing.  Starting in 2008, SalusWorld’s Community Mental Health Initiative (CMHI) has worked to strengthen CBO’s capacity in the realm of psycho-social programming and trauma rehabilitation initiatives.

As we approach our fifth year of operation, it has become evident (through pre and post training and the receipt of support services assessments) that this project enhances the capacities of first line responders, health care workers, educators and activists by helping: to restore the basic personal functioning clients had prior to their trauma experiences (for example, improving parenting capacity, the ability to perform in school/at work or other productive endeavors); to identify “triggers” more readily and helping those in need develop strategies to address them; to rebuild trusting relationships with friends, family and peers; and to restore feelings of self worth.  The local counseling, outreach and training staff are a diverse group, and include men and women, Shan, Burmese, Karin and Rakhin, Buddhists, minority faiths and identify card holders of Burma and Thailand.  They serve as vital interpreters and ambassadors for SalusWorld as its program grows and continues to learn the most effective means to reach, treat, and heal individuals in need of psychosocial services.  Clients are inherently involved in, and in fact, in charge of their own healing and rehabilitation.  Client interventions and training programs are monitored by expert consultants throughout the service and educational provision period and are modified accordingly to best suit client and audience needs.  The trainings provided enhance local capacity in mental health service provision as well as enhance local capacity to provide services overall to survivors of extreme trauma. 

Read more: Hanson, E., & Vogel, G. (2012). The Impact of War on Civilians, in L. Lopez Levers (Ed.) Trauma Counseling: Theories and Interventions. New York: Springer Publishing Company.