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.
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.