Newsletter. Challenges for local staff

Newsletter No. 3 2018 Challenges for local staff

05.09 2018

Overview of content:
Challenges for local staff
Further reading on challenges for local staff
Are you familiar with HHRI GBV manual?


Dear friends and colleagues,

There has been little focus on the consequences of the stress and hardships that local staff members working in natural disasters, war and conflicts situations are exposed to. Even though local staff far outnumber foreign NGO workers and often constitute the majority of the workforce in many humanitarian organizations and NGOs, they are given little of the benefits. Health care, psychological support, medical evaluation, salaries and other benefits, organizational support structures, and security policies—are often less available for local compared with the foreign staff. So – how does local staff handle their psychological wellbeing during and after conflicts or emergencies?

According to Eriksson, Bjorck, & Abernethy, 2003 ( much of the challenge of local staff lies in the day-to-day stressors or difficulties that they are facing on a daily basis. Exposure to such chronic stressors may often inflict on their mental health. The local staff is frequently left to cater for their own needs related to psychological reactions to what they experience at work. Effective self-care requires ongoing awareness and practice. We will argue that the Humanitarian agencies and NGOs should develop routines to raise awareness of reactions to stress and the impact it has on their staff and ways to cope. Through a process of continual attentiveness to their level of stress, the staff will be able to identify and implement appropriate stress management techniques. By observing the effectiveness of such techniques, they will be better equipped to select those tools that are the most effective for themselves in
specific situations.

Humanitarian workers, local as well as foreign, often work in unstable and insecure environments. Their work often brings them into contact with human suffering and misery. Visits to places of detention, shelters for survivors of human trafficking and villages destroyed by armed violence are deeply marking experiences that can potentially traumatize workers if not handled properly.

We will also argue that there may be particular risks for the local staff, and many may struggle with fears for their personal safety, as possible targets of violence. Work associated with human rights related issues are in many places met with reprisals and threats in order to scare them away or silence them from the work they are doing. This includes persons who are working to defend human rights locally or participate in international conferences and meetings, including those organized by the United Nations. Such reactions and threats are unacceptable and must be protested on a national as well as international level. During the last years, there has been stronger focus on the risk of reprisals to persons engaged in human rights work, and important initiatives have been taken – see overview over relevant resolutions and guidelines below.

When all this is said, we must not forget that the work that helpers, local staff and humanitarian workers continue to do every day, has rewarding or positive aspects to the workers themselves. According to David Gangsei, a clinical psychologist who has worked for 30 years in the field of rehabilitation for torture survivors.

“As with vicarious trauma, awareness is a key factor in vicarious resilience because when we know such an experience exists we are more likely to recognize and benefit from it. Vicarious resilience specifically recognizes the value of observing resilience in our trauma-survivor clients. This is not only noticing positive dimensions of trauma work, although that is important. It’s how bearing witness to our clients’ resilience can change how we are, not just as therapists, but as persons in our own lives, dealing with our own sorrows and challenges.”

Further reading on challenges for local staff

Guidelines for the prevention and management of vicarious trauma among researchers of sexual and intimate partner violence
Sexual Violence Research Initiative 2015
These guidelines outline recommendations for the prevention of, and response to, vicarious trauma in researchers working in the field of sexual and intimate partner violence but can also be of use and relevance to those researching other sensitive topics including other forms of gender-based violence.

Using the Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS) Core Competencies in Trauma-Informed Supervision NCTSN
Quality supervision is an important support that organizations can provide to staff members at risk of developing secondary traumatic stress, and The field hasn’t defined what comprises “quality supervision” in the context of secondary trauma support. The STS Supervisory Competencies is a tool that individuals and organizations can use as a benchmark of the competencies needed to provide effective STS supervision and is also a map to resources that can help address gaps in those competencies.

Vicarious trauma and staff support
Alicia Boccellari, Ph.D. and Stacey Wiggall, LCSW 2017
The Trauma Recovery Center model incorporates special attention to the risk of vicarious trauma—a combination of emotions and attitudes that can render staff incapable of effectively helping survivors of trauma. This chapter describes vicarious trauma and discusses how team culture, staffing, training, and institutionalizing support for staff can prevent the effects of vicarious trauma from undermining a program’s effectiveness.

Headington Institute
This institute provides a collaborative network of mental health professionals offering a variety of services to humanitarian workers. The aim is to provide psychological and spiritual support for humanitarian relief and development workers worldwide. It offers training programs/also e-learning, counseling, debriefing etc.

Antares Foundation
This is a non-profit organization, its mission is to improve the quality of management and staff support and care in humanitarian and developmental organizations.

Manual on human rights monitoring – trauma and self-care
OHCHR 2011 from page 20
Reading about stress management is only the first step in building resilience to stress. Successful stress management requires a commitment to the regular practice of stress reduction skills, even during periods of relative calm. Managers must fulfil their responsibilities by creating and maintaining a healthy work environment and by helping their staff manage stress.

Secondary Traumatic Stress in Child Welfare Practice: Trauma-Informed Guidelines for Organizations
Chadwick Trauma-Informed Systems Dissemination and Implementation Project 2016.
Child welfare workers not only experience an indirect connection with trauma, hearing the stories and seeing the effects of trauma on children and families, but they are also in the position to potentially experience and witness trauma directly as they intervene with potentially volatile family situations. These guidelines are not intended to be used as a checklist. The information provided is grounded in theory and in the fledgling research in this area. New research continues to come to the forefront and the field continues to learn more about the impacts of trauma exposure on helping professionals and ways to intervene.

Vicarious Trauma, Vicarious Resilience and Self-Care
David Gangsei
This essay examines the phenomenon of vicarious trauma, its impact on those who work with traumatized clients and the importance of self-care.

Reprisals guidelines for participants of the UPR Info precessions
The purpose of this handbook is to share information to make sure that human rights defenders and others exposed to reprisals will understand the risks they could face due their engagement in the promotion of human rights, and what means are available to protect themselves in case of intimidation and reprisals.

Helping the helpers HHRI thematic page
A selection of links related to the topic helping the helpers

Are you familiar with HHRI GBV manual?

The training manual Mental health and gender-based violence: Helping survivors of sexual violence in conflict also known as “HHRI GBV Manual” is a tool on approaches and techniques that address the psychological needs of survivors of gender-based violence. It is a tool to approach survivors of rape and other forms of sexual violence in contexts of disasters, conflicts and emergency situations, where access to health professionals with psychological or psychiatric expertise usually is very limited.

The Arabic, Russian, Portuguese and  Spanish versions of our training manual is available for free. If you would like a hard copy, please send us an e-mail ( explaining what kind of work you are doing and why would you need the manual it. Please note that complementary to the GBV Manual, we have developed a tool box which you also can accessed for free in English, Spanish, Korean, Georgian and Romanian if you visit our GBV manual web page.

All manuals can be downloaded from the MHHRI website

There are three different manuals, which respectively address working with women, with boys and men, and with children who have experienced sexual violence.

The manuals are translated into several languages. The page numbers in each manual remain the same across languages. This allows survivors and helpers to work from copies in their preferred language and read the same content on the same pages. It also makes it easier to teach participants when participants and trainers work in more than one language. The manuals include a toolbox. Survivors can use it individually to regulate their own emotions through grounding exercises or in collaboration with a helper. Helpers can also use grounding exercises to take care of themselves as helpers.

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Sincerely yours,
Take care – and we are wishing you all the best.

Sincerely yours,

Mental Health and Human Rights Info