‘I was once in their position’: survivors supporting survivors in Jamaica
KINGSTON, Jamaica – “It’s a lot of unpacking traumas. It’s a lot of refocusing energy, and teaching girls and young women who have suffered a lot that you don’t have to suffer. [Violence] is not a normal part of life,” says Danik Frazer, Programmes Officer for the Mentor Mom Tele-Counselling Programme at Eve for Life (EFL) Jamaica.
“It doesn’t matter the time of day or night; I will answer their calls" - Tian McDonald, Mentor Mom
The Mentor Mom Programme provides psychological tele-counselling to girls and women aged 16 to 25 who are experiencing intimate partner violence and abuse in the home. They are then assigned to a ‘mentor mom’ – a fellow survivor of violence who is trained to provide peer-to-peer psychosocial support in navigating abusive situations.
Through UNICEF, the Spotlight Initiative in Jamaica is supporting the expansion of this programme to 500 adolescent girls and young women. Those referred to the programme will have access to a psychologist and 24-hour support from a mentor mom via telephone.
Fighting the epidemics of gender-based violence and COVID-19 Restricted movement due to the COVID-19 pandemic has made many women and girls more vulnerable to violence as they are trapped at home with their abusers and cut off from traditional support services. EFL, a local non-profit operating out of Kingston, provides national support to survivors of gender-based violence and persons living with HIV.
The expanded tele-counselling programme allows EFL to reach survivors with the technologies they already use in convenient and private ways. The programme also improves access to response and referral services, especially for women and girls in rural areas and those who may be isolated in quarantine.
Mentor moms are women who have themselves benefitted from intensive counselling and other interventions, and the programme allows them to support other women experiencing gender-based or family violence.
“The tele-counselling sessions allowed me to build my confidence in speaking out against the abuse I have been receiving. I am working towards finding a way out” - Maria*, Mentor Mom client
“It doesn’t matter the time of day or night; I will answer their calls,” says Tian McDonald, a mentor mom who serves more than 21 clients across Jamaica. “I know why I am doing this, and I understand that I too was once in their position. If it weren’t for Eve for Life, I would not be here now,” she says.
Mentor Moms receive ongoing training and are matched with clients based on the individual needs of each survivor. Most women hear about the programme through community outreach activities and from other survivors in EFL’s network.
“We have received many calls and referrals since COVID-19,” says Shana-lee Smith, Programmes Officer of the EFL Mentor Mom initiative. “On average 15-20 girls access counselling sessions monthly.”
In response to the increased need, EFL has boosted social media advertising to let more women and girls know there is a safe place to seek psychosocial support.
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Since the beginning of the Mentor Mom programme, Ms. Smith has seen improvements in the quality of life for clients.
“When many of the girls began, they were shy and afraid to express their current reality of gender-based violence,” she said. “Throughout the interactions with the ‘moms’ and professional providers, there is a noticeable change.”
“I want to be like Tian, my mentor mom,” said one client when asked how this initiative has helped her. Maria*, another client, added that “the tele-counselling sessions allowed me to build my confidence in speaking out against the abuse I have been receiving and I am working towards finding a way out.”
Stacey-Ann Stone, a Mentor Mom managing 19 clients, is motivated by the positive responses she receives. “To hear how the mentee talks about the work we are doing and how they appreciate it makes the difference for me,” says Ms. Stone.
Despite promising results, challenges remain. “While I have seen improvement in the quality of life for our girls, many of them are disadvantaged because they don’t have a safe shelter to fully escape,” says Ms. McDonald. “This is something we need to work on to ensure our services are fully effective.”
Through the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport (MCGES), The Government of Jamaica recently acquired property with the intention of establishing the first national shelter for victims and survivors of gender-based violence. The shelter will enable more women and girls to transition out of violent situations, access psycho-social support and begin to regain their independence. The Spotlight Initiative will provide direct support to the shelter, including for procurement of personal protective gear and recruitment of key staff members.
Clients of the tele-counselling initiative are among the thousands of women and girls who will benefit from the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative in Jamaica. The Initiative will invest US$10 million towards ending gender based violence in Jamaica across three years.
By Spotlight Initiative Jamaica. Lead photo: Eve for Life mentor speaking with mentees. UNICEF/Daniele Volpe