Providing Comfort on a Park Bench: The Power of Human Contact

This story of inspirational women is not from a grantee, but from one of their countries.  “Grandmothers” have been trained to address some mental health issues in Zimbabwe, where only 13 psychiatrists are available to serve a national population of 14 million.

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“On any given afternoon in the capital of Harare and nearby cities, an elder woman can be found on a bench outside a clinic, listening intently to another person’s stories. She’s affectionately called a “grandmother”… for her role offering comfort, encouragement and a ready ear,” for those who may feel (in Western terms) depressed. The women are also trained to recognize who might need more advanced care at a health facility.

Dixon Chibanda, one of the psychiatrists who co-developed the program to hone  “mental health care down to basic human connections”, made medical concepts accessible in laymen’s terms, and enlisted women to create “friendship benches” where problems could be resolved at community level. Research shows that social support methods can help treat mental illness.

The Zimbabwe story also reminds us that education continues beyond universities, and that women of all ages continue to contribute to the well-being of their communities.

posted by Reiko Niimi