A group of women sits under a large mango tree inside the Cathedral Collective Centre in Wau in Western Bahr el Ghazal, South Sudan. They sit barefoot with their legs stretched out under a tree that boasts succulent yellow mangoes hanging low from the branches.
Scattered around the women is a kaleidoscope of beautiful kitenge cloth, a popular African wax fabric made up of colourful prints.
Someone must have said something funny because they erupt in laughter in unison.
You can feel the sisterhood between these women as they each focus on the cloth and needle in hand while they chit chat with one another.
These women are part of the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Women’s Support Group. The IOM team trains different cohorts of women on various skills, including hand sewing and craft making, sometimes honing existing skills to help the women generate a small income. The groups are made up of widows, mothers, young mothers and survivors of gender-based violence.
Thirty-seven-year-old Christina Gabriel Mongu is a member of the Women’s Support Group. She lives in the Collective Centre with her husband and eight children, aged between 9 years and eighteen years old. The close-knit family as Christina describes it, came to the Collective Centre after South Sudan descended into a second wave of conflict in July 2016. Before then they were living in a village called Ndokala, a 40-minute drive from Wau town.
“Life as we knew it was interrupted when the guns started,” said Christina Gabriel. Christina joined the women’s group in early 2019. “I used to stay in my shelter, idle, turning with the sun until I was selected to join the group,” said Christina. “Here I can be with the other sisters, sharing stories and supporting one another,” she added.
Christina says she did not have the skill of dressmaking until she joined the group. Each member of the group can keep a few items — dresses, skirts that they make, and the rest of the items are pooled together and sold by for an average price of 1,000 South Sudanese Pounds, approximately USD 6 at local trade fairs.
Profits are shared between members to supplement their needs at home; The money generated is also used to buy more material for making more items. Members spend an average of three months in one group focusing on developing one skill then at the end of the period they rotate to another group.
IOM’s MHPSS team uses the training in sewing, dressmaking and beadwork as an avenue to offer psychosocial support to the women. The team has created a safe space that allows the women to discuss issues on different topics including situations at home. IOM’s Psychosocial Support (PSS) facilitators and animators are always present during the activities encouraging the women to express their ideas, opinions and perspectives freely. The presence of facilitators also helps to instill respect and compassion between members.
The trained Counsellors also conduct home visits, one-on-one counselling and offer Psychological First Aid.
“The objective of the Women’s Support Group is two-fold; to empower the women so that they can help themselves through projects that generate income and also to support them in their psychological well-being,” said IOM’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Programme Manager, Heide Rieder.
“Allowing members to move to another group after they have developed skills in one craft broadens their knowledge and it allows IOM to reach more women, leaving no one behind,” added Rieder.
MHPSS is supporting ten skills groups in the Cathedral Collective Centre, with each group made up of twenty women including women with disabilities.
In April, IOM supported 18,783 people with various Psychosocial Support interventions at the individual, family and community level.
“I am very happy because I can put the skills I have learnt to use even when I go back to my village,” said Christina. “I will become a seamstress and use the money to take care of my family.”
The Cathedral Collective Centre, including three other Collective Centres in Wau have since been closed due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) that lived in the Collective Centres have either returned to their places of origin or have sought refuge in the UN Protection of Civilians site where MHPSS also provides services.
IOM’s Mental Health and Psychosocial Support activities are supported by DFID, ECHO, SIDA and USAID. This article was written by Liatile Putsoa, IOM South Sudan Media and Communications Officer.
Source: International Organization for Migration