Counselling on Wheels: how mobile counselling units provide care across northeast Nigeria

The harmful actions of violent extremist organisations in north Nigeria have created a situation of acute and enduring humanitarian need. The NEEM Foundation is addressing the impact of this crisis on communities through its innovative Counselling on Wheels (CoW) programme.

Through the provision of therapy services and by providing a safe space for survivors, CoW aims to improve mental health and wellbeing, foster tolerance, and build resilience to violent extremism among affected communities. In just three years (2017 – 2019), CoW engaged more than 23,000 people in therapy services, and reached nearly 2,000 people through community-based peacebuilding initiatives.

Therapy services comprise advocacy, individual assessment and group treatment, working with community leaders within the greater Maiduguri area. To ensure that mental health interventions are effective and sustainable, CoW helps community stakeholders understand the issues being addressed and the positive impact that the intervention is likely to bring; and providing psychoeducation to address the stigma sometimes associated with mental health challenges.

Creative activities, such as music, dance, drama, art and crafting are used to help participants express themselves and their experiences.

Participants are also encouraged to join meetings and committees where they can freely raise, discuss and challenge psychological aspects of vulnerability to violent extremism. NEEM also works with community members who have received treatment to establish peer support groups, which provide a safe space to meet.

Regular peace meetings and workshops provide a forum where community members can take ownership of defining the type of post-conflict society that they would like to build. These meetings are also an opportunity for NEEM to work with key community stakeholders on peacebuilding and conflict mitigation methods. Stakeholders include district heads, women leaders, religious leaders, and security services.

Trained stakeholders are also placed into Community Peacebuilding Committees to help ensure peacebuilding efforts are sustainable. This crucial element supports the process of conflict mitigation, reintegration and reconciliation implemented by the State Government as well as the efforts of international and national non-governmental organisations.

Peacebuilding activities also include capacity building workshops for local leaders, engagement with schools to promote narratives countering violence, multi-stakeholder workshops to increase social cohesion in communities, and consultation forums. The activities aim to raise awareness of challenges, foster dialogue and build community resilience to violent extremism, to ensure communities are equipped with the tools needed to recover from ISWAP’s influence.

(Images courtesy of NEEM Foundation)

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