Socio-Emotional Support Services for Young Adolescents
Earlier this year, Projet Jeune Leader embarked on an effort to improve our socio-emotional support interventions for young adolescents in rural areas. We partnered with Omena, an organization working to break the cycle of emotional abuse in Madagascar.
A smaller, secondary goal of the project was to support the wellbeing of our Educators who directly support those youth.
Ultimately, this part of the project became more important and impactful than we had ever envisioned.
One of the key support services that our Educators provide is confidential counseling. Through counseling, we offer young adolescents a safe, non-judgmental space to discuss a challenge or ask for advice. Because of the trusting relationships that our Educators create with their students, they are often the first person that adolescents turn to for help and support when experiencing an issue in their lives. We see this reflected in the high demand for counseling: in the 2021-2022 school year, Projet Jeune Leader’s 56 Educators held 13,500 counseling sessions.
Strengthening the Capacity and Resiliency of Projet Jeune Leader’s Educators in Rural Madagascar
While many of the challenges that students bring to our Educators are more benign — a conflict with a friend, for example, or a question about menstruation — our Educators are also brought serious and tragic cases of violence and abuse, issues that remain prevalent (and stigmatized) in rural Madagascar.
The challenging, isolated nature of this work leaves our Educators at risk of burnout, unhealthy self-sacrifice, and secondary trauma. At the end of the day, our Educators are just real people — young adults with their own challenges and emotions, carrying the tremendous responsibility of supporting vulnerable young adolescents in their day-to-day work.
A Powerful Peer Support Community
In addition to providing a specialized training on socio-emotional support at the start of the school year, we piloted a “community of practice” for our 16 Educators in Amoron’i Mania region, home to some of our most rural partner schools.
We implemented the community of practice during the school year, bringing together our Educators in person a few times during the year, facilitated by Omena. This allowed the Educators to refresh the skills they had learned in the training, share if/how the tools had worked in practice, and process their experiences in a supportive, trusting community of peers.
This ongoing learning and support strengthened our Educators’ capacity to address challenging cases with their students. As one of our Educators reflected, “The community of practice has helped me a lot in my work because now I understand more about emotional abuse. That has helped me explain it to other people and improve my approach to support students who have experienced it.”
The training and community of practice were personally transformative for many of our Educators, too.
There’s a saying in Madagascar: “Ny tokantrano tsy ahahaka.” It roughly translates to “What happens at home, stays at home.” Open discussions about mental health and stigmatized issues are rare. Yet that’s exactly what the community of practice was able to open up.
“When someone shared their experience, the others in the group showed they were interested, encouraged the Educator to share, and supported them,” shared one of the community of practice facilitators in a session report-out. “The Educators are active and reactive at each activity. They are beginning to share vulnerabilities with one another.”
In their end-of-project feedback, some Educators shared that the community of practice was like therapy, helping them process their emotions and shift their mindsets. “[The program] changed my behavior and helped me to know myself. It gave me a lot of motivation, helped me to find my values, to decide about my goals, and to be able to set boundaries,” wrote one Educator. “I gained tools to manage stress, to manage emotions,” shared another.
Personal Resiliency to Thrive Professionally
These skills and interpersonal support are critical for our Educators’ personal well-being and growth, which we believe is the foundation of their professional well-being and growth. Equipped with new tools to support students AND to care for themselves, supported by a strong peer community, our Educators felt less emotional pressure and toll from the job.
Although we started this effort primarily focused on the support services our Educators provide to adolescents, we learned a lot along the way about how to better support our Educators in their challenging work. We want to ensure that we aren’t just helping them care for their students — but helping them care for themselves and each other, too.