Aftercare Mission to Africa with OUR

This the first of five blogposts about Smarter Parenting and Operation Underground Railroad’s collaborative work in Africa to help survivors of human trafficking. Future posts in this series will appear every Friday. All posts are written by Siope Kinikini, Director of Smarter Parenting.

If someone told me when I was in graduate school that I would be going to Africa to work with survivors of human trafficking I would not have believed them. Yet, now I understand that in the work of helping children and families involves collaborating with different people that may lead to doing unexpected things.

One of the main goals of Smarter Parenting is to share its message to strengthen children and families around the world. The internet is the vehicle we have chosen to accomplish this goal. Although we are still in our infancy, we have been able to collaborate with parents, caregivers and agencies working with children around the world. Among those agencies is Operation Underground Railroad.

Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) rescues children who have been kidnapped or sold into sex slavery and are victims of human trafficking. They do this by working closely with government agencies in different countries and have saved children around the world. They work closely with government officials in different countries and they also collaborate with in country agencies to support the children after they are rescued through recovery.

Smarter Parenting and O.U.R. have been working together for more than a year and a half. We play a role in the Aftercare of these children. We are a support to caregivers, frontline workers, parents and families in their efforts to help these survivors through recovery. Because Smarter Parenting is an online resource it is available around the world. All the materials on the website are free which is especially helpful in countries where resources are lacking. It has been interesting for me with that even in remote poor countries people still have access to the Internet. This was true in Africa. In fact in 2015 Google announced that they were going to install Google fiber in Africa essentially connecting Ghana and Uganda to high speed internet and to the world.

Invitation, preparation, revision

When O.U.R contacted me about participating in their very first after care team mission to Africa I agreed. My therapeutic training was largely in the area sexual abuse, trauma, and children. I was asked to provide training for agency leaders, therapists and frontline workers. I was grateful for the invitation to participate. I learned that our team consisted of seven people. I was the only licensed mental health professional on the team. I was told we would work with agencies in their locations. I would be invited to meet with the agency leader and to work with them individually. I would also provide a full day training later during the trip.

In my preparation I returned to my training. I understand treatment modalities and therapeutic approaches but I was not familiar with the culture. I turned to the Internet to gather as much information as possible about this country and its people.

We started working as soon as we landed in Africa. As soon as we arrived we dropped off our bags and before unpacking we went directly to a center for girls. We began working immediately and the schedule kept us going from early in the morning until late in the evening. Everyday we were there we visited a different location working with different children. This proved to be very beneficial to me. I was able to listen and understand these people and their concerns. This helped me understand how to better adjust my own full day training to meet their needs. I had to change the approach and style of the presentation to match their cultural learning style. I was grateful to have had time to meet with these agencies more intimately before providing the large group training. The information I gathered was very helpful.

O.U.R. uses a very effective approach in their Aftercare goals. Instead of moving into a country and implementing programs for aftercare they support reputable agencies within these countries to succeed. The benefits are obvious. Treatment is culturally sensitive and appropriate.

My role was not to go in and replace what they were doing but to provide additional help. I was not teaching them new therapy techniques. I found that many of them already had training and certifications in the leading treatment modalities including: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT), psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, etc. So my training was to enhance their approaches in helping with behavior on a day to day basis. The skills help accomplish this.

The beauty of teaching the skills from the Teaching-Family Model is that it helps support and strengthen relationships. It also provides behavioral tools for children. This allows everyone on the treatment team to be consistent with each other and with the child. I should state that these skills do not replace therapeutic treatments but they support them.

Simple lesson reinforced

One of the things I was reminded of throughout this process was how easy it was to implement the skills on Smarter Parenting to a different culture. I had learned this lesson early in my career. When I initially started out working to help families I did it through in-home services. This involve me going into homes and working with parents were guardian in their environment. Because I am able to speak multiple languages I was able to work with a wide range of different cultures including: Pacific Islanders, Native American, Hispanic, Refugees, Deaf, etc. I learned quickly that the skills could be used to help strengthen relationships. This lesson was reinforced during this trip.

Continued collaboration with Africa

I returned from Africa a few weeks ago. Despite this I have continued to maintain contact with agency leaders and frontline workers in Africa. Some on a weekly basis. I can provide them support and help in their work from my home in the United States. We continue to collaborate. Technology allows us to do this. I look forward to continued collaboration with my African family and with Operation Underground Railroad. We are working both working to help strengthen the lives of children around the world. We share this common goal.

Next week: From victim to survivor to advocate

Siope Kinikini

I’m a dad. I enjoy being a dad. I like things to do things that are challenging as well. I’m especially fond of mint-chocolate chip ice cream.

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