Rebuilding Community Mental Health Resilience after a Natural Disaster when there are no services.

Rebuilding Community Mental Health Resilience after a Natural Disaster when there are no services.

SamoaNew Zealand
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Our agency develops mental health community outreach approaches and services in the context of disaster that can support and rebuild community resilience.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

When a natural disaster strikes people lose family members, their homes, patterns of life, livelihoods and very often their state of wellbeing and their mental health is often negatively impacted for months or longer. Psychological resilience for both the young and the elderly is deeply rocked by the impacts of a disaster. In smaller developing nations across the Pacific mental health services are often the smallest sector within health systems. There is no full time psychiatrist to service the nation of nearly 200,000 people. The government budget currently affords a part time psychiatrist specialist from Australia. When the Tsunmai 2009 struck - there were no community based services to meet increased mental health needs caused by the disaster.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The solution was to rebuild the resilience of the affected populations through a community outreach programme. Without this we believed that the disaster impacts would continue for another generation. We called on our friends to come and help with informing and designing the intervention. Leadership was held firmly by our Samoan Coordinator, with support from the home agency the Family Centre. The Family Centre drew on our existing partners in Samoa and we worked together to build capacity by training a 'community outreach team'. We called in the best psychologists and adocescent mental health psychiatrists familiar with Samoan cultural norms, who were accountable to Samoan leadership from our agency. We developed a Childrens programme which we took through the affected villages with the support of local schools. Teams visited every family impacted by the tsunami over 6 weeks in 2009 and recently in 2011. We documented visits & indicators of their well-being.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

In our experience when a crisis happens, whether its a death in the family or a Tsunami that has taken everything that formed the familiar, its vital to the future resilience,wellbeing and recovery of the imapacted populations that they receive some comforting , pastoral care and even have some external witnesses to their losses / grief. We drew on Samoan cultural practices and the best social science and therapeutic knowedge we could and developed a method for the basis of our community outreach programme. A team of 20 'pastoral workers' from the Catholic Archdiocese of Samoa including others from NZ and the USA was formed. Non-Samoan mental health specialists were attached to each of the Samoan teams. Their role was to support the Samoan teams. The Principal Team leader (Co-ordinator of the Pacific Section of Family Centre) provided supervision and de-briefs. The teams worked with village leaders in each location identifying impacted families. Families were visited, preliminary assessments of wellbeing were carried out. Those in need of intensive follow up were referred to team specialists. Children (under 10 years) and Elders needed intensive follow up. We spent more time with Elders. We developed with our Child and adolescent psychiatrist specialist a format of 'Childrens Camps'. Camps aimed to reduce post disaster stress levels so children could regain concentration and reduce their fears. Activites had to be fun and include a meal. Nearly 1300 Children participated. We have just carried out follow up visitations to over 500 households.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

At the time there were others involved in 'Psycho-social responses' but these were on an individual less collaborative basis. That proved unsustainable given the scale of need and lack of local funding. We were able to sustain our own mental health response strategy because of a large network of supporters, including faithbased organisations, both in Samoa and internationally. Mental Health is often overlooked and under resourced post disaster but consequences are connected to physical health impacts: e.g increased blood pressure, internalised stresses = early death. We connected these to Livelihood and economic health and inter-generational health issues. Children are survivors too. In our experience there a few competitors in our region. We continue to work in this area.

Founding Story

Across the Oceanic environment of the Pacific we have island nations struggling against rising sea levels, Christchurch city in New Zealand experiencing on-going earthquakes and climate change causing impacts on populations' physical, cultural, spiritual, economic, mental and psychological health. When everything that connects us as humans to our place and sense of belonging and our material world is destroyed specialised health attention is needed. We arrived into Samoa, from New Zealand a day after the tsunami with with doctors and emergency para-medics. When we took them to the National Hospital to join the emergency medical teams the Chief of Clinical Services, who knew the background of the Family Centre asked for help, "we have no psych-mental health services to help people. Please do something." Our solution was to develop a community outreach partnership between local and international specialists to address mental health impacts of the disaster.
About You
The Family Centre
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

The Family Centre

Organization Country


Country where this project is creating social impact

, AT

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

How long have you been in operation?

Operating for more than 5 years

Which of the following best describes the barrier(s) your innovation addresses? Choose up to two

Access, Cost.

Social Impact
Please describe the goal of your initiative; outline what you are trying to achieve

Rebuilding mental health resilience following a disaster/crisis through a community outreach programme as a key response to a natural disaster.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

Our agency leaders were called in by the New Zealand Social Policy and Welfare agency to do similar work in New Zealand. Christchurch city was hit in September 2010 by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake killing 182 people. The Samoan experience went onto impact the work with Christchurch emergency, health, education, government and non-government and community workers.

Two years later we are still the only team (we would say in the Pacific region) to have developed a specific response to the mental health impacts of disasters and trialed it so extensively. In Samoa we have gathered information on the general health and wellbeing of each of the famiiies impacted by the tsunami. No other agencies have gathered this level of information.

In the meantime we have been very heartened to see the high levels of recovery and can specifically identify specific programmes that are needed for example in the health, economic development, housing or water policy areas.

What is your projected impact over the next five years?

Across the Pacific region impact may include: drawing on what we have learned and work with specific Ministries of government, the national Churches or local village leadership to shape policy and/or projects that will improve future outcomes for Children, young people and their leadership groups, and Elders.

The main projected impact? To strengthen regional resilience in health, social, cultural, economic and environment sectors.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Possible Barriers: Samoan Government fears of criticism of their handling of the disaster affected villages or populations.

To overcome this we have worked to develop positive and transparent relationships with major ministries e.g. Health, Education and Women, Community and Social Development. One practical example was that we invited the MInistry of Women, Community and Social Development to contribute any questions they may want to include in our review within our quesitonnaire which we put to each of the households that we visited.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Working with Governments of Samoa & New Zealand on social & economic policy directions indicated by our review findings

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Carry out analysis of the Health & Livelihood aspects of the review data collected from the households interviewed

Task 2

Identify social & economic outcomes of disaster

Task 3

Publish and disseminate the report and our review findings with our partner(s) in Samoa

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Working across the Region on developing culturally based mental health responses in times of disaster and crisis.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Identify health and other policy outcomes

Task 2

Working with Government of Samoa on social & economic policy outcomes of review

Task 3

Working with Government of New Zealand on health, economic and other development impacts of review outcomes

Tell us about your partnerships

Our Samoan partnerships contribute 'in kind' human resources and skills rather than financing. Our strongest and most consistent partnership in Samoa is with the Catholic Archdiocese of Samoa - Apia. They support the building of capacity of their pastoral workers so that in the event of any future disasters they can respond locally.

Samoan Government Social Policy Ministries are newer partners but they are critical to the success of social and economic resilience. These Ministries are supportive but they are not financing us. We are building sensitive and transparent relationships.

Are you currently targeting other specific populations, locations, or markets for your innovation? If so, where and why?

Based on our own experience our targeted populations are the indigenous populations in our region of the Pacific. Building Regional Resilience will draw upon local peoples, indigenous cultural knowlegdes , environment and practices as the major resources.

What type of operating environment and internal organizational factors make your innovation successful?

Operating environment: The partners in this innovation share values inclusive of social justice and compassion so Leaders and workers develop responses to crisis.

Partnerships across Oceanic 'borders'- relationships between New Zealand and Samoa are historic as New Zealand was a former colonial power. Staff in the Pacific Section are Samoans connected to their places of belonging, so relationships are built over time. The Family Centre as an organisation is innovative with cultural sections that operate autonomously but interdependently. These sections are empowered to set their work priorities in relationship with one another. These relationships are underpinned by accountability to one another and a shared set of social justice values.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

Our main needs are for forms of investment or other innovative ideas about generating ways to sustain this work financially - there must be others who have figured this out?