STAR at the grassroots: local transformation, national impact

By Vernon Jantzi | November 7th, 2013

In the past several years, evaluations of two programs developed from STAR in Haiti and Somalia have shown how concepts and processes presented in STAR have been adapted culturally, programmatically and linguistically, to address trauma and build resilience at the grassroots level in very different social contexts. However, even though these programs were implemented at the local level, the vision in each case was to have a regional or naVern formal for web2tional impact. You might wonder if this is possible.  How can STAR-inspired programs working at the grassroots level influence regional or national reconciliation and reconstruction efforts?

STAR emphasizes a multidisciplinary, multicultural and multi-faith framework. It also stresses that development work, humanitarian emergency responses and peacebuilding should be trauma-informed because many of the actions and processes they use can help address trauma and build resilience as well, if this is taken into account explicitly in their program implementation.

STAR highlights this in the “healing path” portion of the snail model, where resources from different fields are presented for addressing trauma, breaking the cycles of violence it so often generates or exacerbates, and building individual and collective resilience.

Wozo, the Haiti project, was funded by the same six denominations that helped found STAR after the events of September 11, 2001. Quraca Nabadda, in Somalia, was funded by USAID.  Both of the implementing agencies adopted, translated, and adapted Village STAR as the basis for their work with individuals and groups at the grassroots level. However, the implementation was quite different.

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti created individual and collective trauma across the country.  It also laid bare many other traumas: Abuse. Attachment issues. or Structural injustices that may have been less visible before the earthquake. Responding to the earthquake, Wozo prepared trainers to build awareness of trauma and resilience across the country. It relied heavily—but not exclusively—on congregations, as well as development and reconstruction programs of the six sponsoring denominations. Those trained by Wozo in turn led trainings throughout Haiti. People expressed appreciation for the life-changing experience Wozo provided by helping to create awareness of how trauma affects everyone as humans. It normalized their experiences.

Wozo didn’t limit its work to trainings on awareness, though. It helped create Wozo clubs that served as a gathering space to help individuals and groups respond to the trauma and harms they had experienced. Participants shared their stories., but they also explored community issues and possible responses.

We know that the ability to identify, analyze and address community harms and issues enhances community resilience and the ability to respond and create structures to engage current or future problems. It creates social capital. According to the evaluation report, Wozo’s work took on elements of a social movement and almost a life of its own, spreading throughout the country.  It showed the program’s effectiveness in meeting needs and providing ways for groups and communities to empower themselves to address, to one degree or another, the trauma produced by the earthquake, as well as the historical harms from the legacy of colonialism and slavery, and traumas related to persistent poverty.

Nearly a world away and at about the same time, the Quraca Nabadda  program in Somalia began, like Wozo in Haiti, to provide trauma awareness and resilience trainings at the village level, using adaptations of Vquraca nabaddaillage STAR. The program gathered women from villages to meet and share their stories about the trauma and harms they and their community had experienced.  Trained facilitators used a colorful set of painted cards that depicted various situations and were strategically placed on a snail model made out of rope. This large snail model showed different kinds of trauma, the cycles of violence and breaking free on the healing path—where a number of the various actions and processes for addressing trauma were listed. Their methodology was successful: Participants said one of the most liberating aspects of the program was that it also normalized their emotional and physiological responses to trauma. They were reassured that nothing was wrong with them.

Strengthened by this awareness, participants began to engage their “other.” They arranged meetings and negotiations with parties with whom they had been or were engaged in violent conflict. Trauma awareness, including the cycles of violence, had empowered them to use tools and processes introduced by STAR to encounter the other—listening to their story, and applying appropriately adapted aspects of conflict transformation, restorative justice and joint development project implementation. The project was so successful at the community level that leaders are now working to adapt the program on a national level, as a part of the reconciliation process in Somalia.

Is this possible? Will it work? Only time will tell if a vision like this can be achieved. But we do know that in addition to addressing the trauma and harm experienced by individuals and communities, Quraca Nabadda created opportunities for communities to develop greater resilience or, more specifically, the social capital needed to address current and future conflicts.  In this case, the networks formed, knowledge gained, relationships repaired, and the awareness of processes to address trauma all contributed to improving the capacity of communities to respond to harms and challenges. When individuals and communities at the grassroots are able to respond effectively to trauma, and increase their capacity to engage future threats and challenges, peacebuilding efforts at regional and national levels have a more solid basis for success.

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