Blumont’s Closing Gaps program offers psycho-social support to victims of armed conflict and violence in Colombia, promoting emotional recovery and helping to rebuild communities for thousands of people. The program’s work has been transformative for beneficiaries, but daily contact with the harsh realities of violence and its effects often places Blumont staff in high-stress situations. Recognizing that staff must feel supported in order to best support beneficiaries, Blumont’s Colombia office has prioritized emotional support for staff as well.
Blumont’s Closing Gaps team conducted an assessment in 2013 in our three regional offices in Bogotá, Florencia, and Popayán to measure the causes of stress among staff. Results showed that emotional distress was caused by two main factors: burnout from empathy for victims and fear from daily security risks, especially when travelling by road in remote areas.
To adequately identify and respond to needs, the psycho-social support process is put into the hands of staff from beginning to end. They identify needs, propose activities, and provide feedback. Blumont’s role is to ensure that all activities include an emotional recovery component and are compliant with best practices.
Blumont’s team uses staff input to organize activities for personal and professional growth that are uniquely crafted for each regional office based on their needs. The goal of these activities is to alleviate distress and help staff prevent emotional burnout through dance, music, sports and hands-on activities. For example, one Friday each quarter, staff in the Florencia regional office take two hours to play sports like volleyball together in a nearby field.
“Teams have identified minimum social interaction between them as something they need,” Juan Pablo Franco Jiménez, Blumont’s Colombia Country Director, said. “That protects them and alleviates the psycho-social risk that they face. It is funded by the project…the only thing we have to give them are those two hours and it still counts as working hours, because it is part of our health and safety regulations.”
Staff psychologists participate in additional activities because they are at greater risk of emotional burnout. These activities include training on topics such as empathy, communication, and psycho-social care techniques, strengthening necessary skills to effectively perform their daily tasks. For one week every quarter, psychologists participate in emotional recovery activities organized by Blumont. One activity involved each person building and personalizing a drum while reflecting on their strengths. Staff then incorporated these drums into work with beneficiaries. In group victim meetings when emotions are high, staff often use their drums to help the group, and themselves, relieve stress. In another instance, psychologists performed a ritual using their drums to close out one of the Closing Gaps general meetings.
Other tools used to promote emotional recovery and feelings of safety include celebrating staff birthdays each month, using satellite tracking services, and holding annual meetings to share concerns. During these meetings, staff are given resources to alleviate stress. For example, in one meeting they learned breathing exercises they can use in the workplace when they feel overwhelmed.
“We realized we needed to alleviate emotional distress from the specific type of activities that we do,” Franco Jiménez said. “[One day], the team car broke down in the middle of the road and it’s still a very dangerous part of the road. One of the members of our staff, when she got to her house, said she had a huge headache and a migraine. That’s a clear effect of her waiting in that part of the road that she knows there’s been attacks before. Those are types of effects of this distress…you may be putting all that stuff in the back of your mind, but you don’t realize you’re burning out.”
The Closing Gaps program funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM). The program, now in its eleventh year, strengthens institutional and community capacities to improve assistance to victims of displacement.