By Odinaka Kingsley Obeta, Jos.
In a groundbreaking initiative aimed at strengthening access to disability inclusion and mental health services in Plateau state, a 2-day training session was organized by Charis Healthcare and Community Support Initiative for community and religious leaders in Plateau state between the 26th – 27th of June 2023. The training, which was held recently, had several objectives, including increasing awareness and understanding of mental health and disability-related issues, enhancing the capacity of leaders to provide appropriate support, promoting inclusive environments, and fostering collaboration among participants. The training proved to be a transformative experience for the attendees, who expressed their newfound knowledge and enthusiasm for implementing positive change within their respective communities.
Sharing reflections; Rev. Pam Ishaku Vomagai, the parish priest of St. John’s Anglican Church, Laholchom, acknowledged that the program shed light on past challenges he faced while interacting with members who had mental health issues. He expressed his commitment to making referrals for professional mental health services where the need arises as spiritual care is accessed, recognizing the importance of holistic support for his members.
Another participant, Maryam Sulaiman, a scholar in the women’s wing of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), found the training to be highly informative. She spoke about her plans to carry out sensitization campaigns in her area, specifically targeting individuals with disabilities. By raising awareness about disability and mental health issues, Maryam aims to discourage the practice of collecting alms, empower persons with disability to be self-sufficient and foster a more inclusive society. She also emphasized the need for parents to be educated on appropriate care for and support to children with special needs.
Rev. Anita Almasih Ndirang, the Convener of the Arewa Women Intersection Network, expressed her excitement and gratitude for the training. She acknowledged that past efforts inadvertently contributed to the seclusion of persons with disability. Armed with newfound knowledge, she pledged to embrace individuals with disabilities and to promote inclusion within her network. Additionally, Rev. Ndirang recognized the importance of physical accessibility and announced plans to include ramps in an ongoing building project at her church. She also vowed to raise awareness among her team and church members about promoting disability inclusion and creating a safe space for persons with mental health challenges.
Sheik Abubakar Umar Garbati, a representative from Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) and the Chief Counselor of the Community Aid Workers Initiative (CAWI) shared his transformative experience, following the training. Sheik Garbati admitted that his views on mental health had changed, emphasizing the importance of providing medications and treatments to individuals with mental health conditions. He pledged to remove barriers to disability inclusion, starting by ending the practice of separating persons with disability from the general congregation at the mosque where he serves as a Security Officer. Sheik Garbati also expressed his desire for collaboration between CHARIS and Community Aid Workers Initiative (CAWI) on disability and mental health-related issues, offering to provide training and retraining for staff and beneficiaries of his organization.
The outcomes of this training highlights the immense impact that knowledge and awareness can have in promoting mental health support and fostering inclusive communities. Religious and community leaders have embraced their new roles as advocates for persons with disabilities, committed to breaking down barriers and creating an environment where everyone can thrive. It is encouraging to witness the dedication and enthusiasm of these leaders in effecting positive change within their communities. Their efforts serve as an inspiration and a reminder of the power of education and collaboration in promoting mental health and well-being for all.
The training was implemented by Charis Healthcare and Community Support Initiative, with funding from Liliane fonds and technical support from the Leprosy Mission in Nigeria.