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Pragmatic Empowerment Training

Empowerment for people on the move.

Photo of Charles Tauber

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

SPECIFIC PEOPLE: With no political solution on the horizon, most refugees are in limbo, unable to continue their journey or return to their country of origin. The most vulnerable group among the refugees are unaccompanied or separated children (UASC), but people of all ages and descriptions are affected. THE PROBLEM: Everyone affected by crisis or disaster, regardless of gender, age and sexual orientation, can experience a form of vulnerability and should be able to access help and support. Suffering and distress lead to mental health issues. People feel that they have no control over their lives and futures. Being away from family makes people feel isolated. They experience psychological issues from the trauma of the crisis situation and displacement, as well as from the loss of their gender roles and identities as the financial provider and protector of the family in the case of men and as the carers for the family in the case of women. In the case of migrants, they are expected to send back remittances and to successfully reach the country of destination and then to bring other family members. Furthermore, even when people have reached a receiving region, the previous traumas affect their functionality. There is very little if any assistance available, and what assistance is given is not effective. THE SOLUTION: Pragmatic Empowered Training (PET) will empower people and improve their mental health and wellbeing. Using partner expertise, and by identifying organizations who work directly with migrant groups, the model will be adapted to reach these groups. Mobile units will access migrants who do not/cannot access local public health services. Services will be multilingual and culturally/subject sensitive. People without previous education will be taught onsite and online to assist one another and become "barefoot therapists". Assisting others also will give them self-worth. This also becomes a form of therapy, which otherwise is stigmatized.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Pragmatic Empowered Training is an online educational program so participants from across the globe can enroll.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Many migrant communities are unaware of their mental health issues. Barefoot therapists will gain the knowledge needed to empower migrant communities to fulfill their human needs of joy, hope, and dignity. Further, because other community members also will be invited to join in the groups and will have their own groups, the receiving communities also will understand the issues more.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

Mental health issues have a substantial impact on the wellbeing of refugees and people close to them. The process of social integration implies high functional requirements in terms of cognitive and interpersonal capabilities, which refugees with psychological impairments are often unable to meet, precisely because of these reactions. There is clear evidence shows that psychological impairment in refugees is associated with high levels of post-migration living difficulties and with poor social and economic integration. Providing access to mental health and psychosocial support is not only a human rights obligation but is a human need and imperative to social integration, which also is beneficial for the community in the long term, in the sense that inadequate or unavailable treatment can lead to violence and substantial long-term social costs.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

The most effective elements of our work are the reduction of psychological trauma and the increase in their functionality can transform communities. There is good evidence that psychological issues cause physical illness. Many migrants may never have even heard of mental health and wellbeing before, or they might understand it differently or associate it with stigma. They may express fear and other emotions in ways that are unfamiliar to us. PET for members of the migrant community will allow them, that as barefoot therapists or peer supporters. to provide effective mental health support that will be culturally sensitive, person-centered, and accessible. It is very difficult to measure the impact of a program such as this one quantitatively. Certainly, we will hold evaluation sessions with migrants and volunteers and record their answers. There will be follow-up organizing. We also will attempt to stay in touch with the migrants who move on using the Internet

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Virtually no psychological assistance is being given to migrants or to people who are attempting to integrate into receiving societies. The assistance that is being given is short-term and concentrates on drugs and the short-term alleviation of symptoms rather than on long-term solutions that reach deeply. Furthermore, the assistance that is given is given by "elites", that is, by professionals who have little contact with the affected communities. Further, we have seen that volunteers with good hearts do not have the education and supervision they need to assist in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, this is an almost universal phenomenon in the world. Our inspiration comes from our experience since 1988 with asylum seekers, refugees, and war victims. We see the suffering and the dysfunctionality that results from the lack of work with people. Another point here is that what we call psychological and physical reactions are treated as illnesses rather than the normal reactions to trauma.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

The primary community with which we wish to work consists of people on the move, specifically in border areas close to Croatia, but also in other areas such as Greece. These are very loose communities, mostly made up of young men from Afghanistan, Iran, and elsewhere. There also are families. Most of the people with whom we wish to work are living outside of formal camps. These people are highly exploited by smugglers, who set up hierarchies within the settlements. People are exploited financially, physically, and sexually. Their main aim is to get across borders to places like Germany and Scandinavia. They very frequently carry out suicide and self-harm. They almost always have mobile phones, which may make it possible to have long-term contact. We also wish to work with people in the process of integration. Unfortunately, most volunteers working with them are present for very short periods and are untrained and unsupervised. This is another group with which we wish to work.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

This idea specifically addresses strengths within the community. Instead of people from outside delivering psychological assistance, it gives that to members of the community. Further, the philosophy of the work is not that people are sick or defective in some way, but that the issues that they are facing are natural and are the direct result of what they have experienced. Because of its highly participatory nature, the process uses the experience of the participants to build on allowing them to learn and practice how to assist one another. Thus, each PET group becomes specific. In this way, also, cultural barriers are overcome, and the group adapts the process to the specific group. Further, it includes psychological supervision and therapy, which very often is stigmatized, by another name. Thus, people become self-reliant and use personal and community strengths and assets to change perceptions and improve mental and physical health within the community.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Advocates Abroad is a global network of diverse professionals dedicated to humanitarian aid for refugees and asylum seekers. Field teams serve in permanent offices, located in the European Union in Greece, Italy, Turkey, the Middle East, and North America. No Name Kitchen (NNK) is an NGO comprised of volunteers from several countries. We are working with them in Šid (Serbia), and in Velika Kladuša (Bosnia). They provide food and clothing to migrants on the move. We also are attempting to work with organizations in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Bukavu, as well as with an organization in Rwanda. These groups feel that this program is important because of the amount of trauma that they have undergone. In South Africa, the group is working with HIV sufferers and migrants. In the DRC, there are many victims of violence and, now, of Ebola. We also will work with the Global Psychosocial Network, which is a part of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

Coalition for Working with Psychotrauma and Peace (CWWPP)

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Our mandate is the empowerment of members of marginalized and vulnerable groups, particularly at the grassroots level, to take control of their own lives. Our specific purpose is to decrease and prevent the adverse effects of psychological traumatization. The Coalition for Work with Psychotrauma and Peace (CWWPP) was formed in the mid-1990s by a group of physicians, social workers, and others in response to the wars involving the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. During more than 24 years in the Western Balkans, we have been carrying out mental health advocacy and education for refugees, torture survivors, and war- traumatized people. Charles Tauber, M.D., a founder and the CEO of the organization, comes from a refugee family and grew up in New York City. He is a physician. He worked with asylum seekers and refugees in The Netherlands from 1988-1995. He is a member of the Global Psychosocial network, which is a part of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State

Nieuwe Pekela, Province of Groningen


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Photo of Joseph Mulabbi

Thank you much, it a great Idea.

Photo of Charles Tauber

I'm delighted that you think so. Please contact us on

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