To compliment the excellent work setting up Family Support Centres in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) volunteer Charles Olinga is working at community level to respond to the challenges of family sexual violence (FSV). As part of the work being done to support survivors of FSV, the team is identifying positive advocates as part of its community mobilisation approach.
The work began by identifying five communities in the coastal region of Madang and the Southern Highlands province of Mendi. From there VSO and its local partners began undertaking a baseline survey to determine knowledge base and attitudes about FSV. Nineteen people from the sample population were identified to represent the whole ward, they were all interviewed and the findings were taken back to the communities for further discussion.
“Attitudinal change that eventually leads to behavioural change is a very long process and, until communities accept that the past behaviours are not acceptable, it is a very slow process.”
To tackle the issue communities had to talk about ingrained attitudes and beliefs from parenting style to alcohol and drug abuse. The survey identified that each community had different experiences and individual plans were created. These action plans informed the training and the response given by the team. A collaborative approach ensures that all views are represented and an agreement is drawn up and signed to encourage ownership of the plans and actions needed to move forward.
A key part of the project is identifying and training change agents from within the community. These are individuals with good reputations who engage with the community to address the challenges within families. The change agents are selected by the village community leaders and are neutral figures who offer basic psychological counseling, provide information on FSV, non-violent conflict resolution and provide a link to other support services. They will also go from home to home within the community to advocate about FSV.
Training is currently taking place and aims to empower participants by equipping them with knowledge and skills in advocacy, resolving conflict, networking and project management. The communities are keen to set up care and prevention programmes where, amongst other things, survivors are cared for. In these programmes education activities are delivered and a collection of resources is freely available so that the community knows where to refer survivors.
Charles Olinga is experienced with operating in a community setting and previously worked for The AIDS Support Organisation in Uganda as a community based trainer, counselor and coordinator, responding to the AIDS epidemic. A significant challenge has been ensuring the communities have ownership of the project: “It is not an easy area to work in and there are a number of key challenges. The communities’ expectation of being involved in a project like this is that they will see an instant return. However, the approach of this project is to build capacity; it’s a hard sell as it requires resources and motivation from within the communities. Bringing people together is another problem. Our role is to unite individuals to create partnerships. Attitudinal change that eventually leads to behavioural change is a very long process and, until communities accept that the past behaviours are not acceptable, it is a very slow process.”
“Attitudinal change won’t take place overnight, we are just planting the seed.”
The VSO team is contributing to the national approach to FSV and a goal is to see a decrease in referrals to the Family Support Centres so that they can provide evidence that the community approach is working. As positive change begins to occur it is hoped it will be rolled out to neighbouring wards and community-based organisations will be formed. From small seeds it is hoped, that in the long-term, significant change will occur but as with many deeply ingrained social issues it will take a significant amount of time to see major change: “Attitudinal change won’t take place overnight, we are just planting the seed.”