Community Trainers Prepared in Trauma Healing and Psychosocial Support in Conflict-Affected Populations in South Sudan

Posted September 10, 2021

UNDP Deputy Resident Representative and Head of Programmes Christy Ahenkora, and master trainers Dr. Barrett Hart and Ms. Bena Mark, pose with participants of the three-week trauma healing and psychosocial support training after the closing of the programme on 4 September 2021. Photo: UNDP

“I'm going home with a lot of experience and then I'm also going home with this burden that I've been carrying all along, off my shoulders. I'll try training as many people as I can,” said Ms. Tracy Luba, 27, from Ruweng Administrative Area.

“You can start from where you are staying, even at boreholes, where you can get people [to listen]. If somebody is willing to listen, then you tell them what you've learned,” she continued. 

Tracy was recounting her experience during a three-week training of community trainers course held in Juba on trauma healing and psychosocial support for conflict-affected communities. Her testimony echoed the feedback of 45 participants who completed the training with a profound feeling of purpose and determination to impact others. 

Organized by UNDP’s Peace and Community Cohesion (PaCC) project, with support from the Government of Sweden, the training brought together participants from 10 states and two administrative areas, as well as representatives from government institutions such as the Ministry of Peacebuilding, Ministry of Gender Child and Social Welfare, the Peace and Reconciliation Commission, the Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, the Bureau for Community Security and Small Arms Control, as well as Juba University (National Transformational Leadership Institute). Most of the participants have already been trained by the PaCC project as members of peace committees and psychosocial support volunteers.   

“Sweden in our support to South Sudan focuses on the most vulnerable. It’s unquestionable that a tremendous number of people [in South Sudan] have experienced horrendous violence and/or some kind of loss, as we have heard this afternoon. To listen to someone who is dealing with trauma and what they have gone through, as a human being with empathy in many ways can be a lifesaver. For many people who are barely surviving, this can be the difference between someone only surviving and someone living again,” said Lars Johansson, Chief of Programmes for the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) in South Sudan, during the opening ceremony.

Undersecretary of the Ministry of Peacebuilding Hon. Pia Phillip, UNDP Resident Representative Samuel Doe, and Dr. Barrett Hart, facilitator and master trainer, at the opening ceremony of the training. Photo: UNDP

“Trauma affected societies tend to suffer intolerance, localized violence, dehumanization of the other and the disrespect for the sanctity of life. Without deliberate collective efforts to recognize and confront this reality, trauma becomes deeply embedded in the fabrics of the society, interfering with any attempt at progress towards transformation, reconciliation, and peace,” said UNDP Resident Representative Samuel Doe, during opening remarks of the training.

The three-week training examined a range of psychosocial, trauma recovery/healing, and peacebuilding concepts and practices to provide information and tools for use by the participants in their community psychosocial support work. 

“In South Sudan, we have been living in the past -- living in enclaves of communities and ethnicities because we had nothing to unite us, such as a national identity,” said Undersecretary of the Ministry of Peacebuilding Hon. Pia Phillip, at the opening of the training, highlighting that the mission of the Ministry of Peacebuilding is to help develop and move South Sudan towards a united national identity.

“For us to do [become united], we have to start to talk to ourselves, deal with trauma healing, and provide the space to talk amongst each other and move forward. Trauma healing is not an easy undertaking. It takes time. It takes experience. We are grateful that our partners like UNDP, Sweden, and others have come to the aid of the Republic of South Sudan and its people,” in this aim, Undersecretary Phillip concluded.

Bringing Psychosocial Support Work to Communities

Mr. Gismo Nyuach (center), and fellow participants, at the trauma healing and psychosocial support training of trainers programme held in Juba, South Sudan from 16 August to 4 September 2021. Photo: UNDP

“I will [leave this training] with the message of Ubuntu. Ubuntu means togetherness, regardless of being Gok, or being Agar, or being Tonj, we are all human beings. The ideas about psychosocial support and trauma healing, the knowledge is booming [in my head],” said Mr. Gismo Nyuach, from Lakes State, working with Helping Hands. 

Mr. Nyuach recounted his experience as a young person, driven by economic desperation, and how his journey led to enlisting in the armed forces. While serving, Mr. Nyuach was injured and lost his leg. He now works with and leads efforts to support persons with disabilities, and from the training came to understand more deeply how trauma affects people like him. 

“Persons living with disability, we are the most populated number [of people] in the country. This is the community who is the most traumatized, and our trauma can traumatize you,” he shared. 

“I think [the participants] came to realize the importance of social coexistence and the importance of our mental health,” said Ms. Bena Mark, a lecturer and Head of Psychology Department at the University of Juba, and one of the master trainers of programme. 

“The reality is we're all human beings and we all have feelings and we all have hopes. What happens or crashes hopes, prevents people from seeing that they have a future. That's what we try to do -- help release some of that [pain] so that people can have an expanded imagination and vision for the future,” said Dr. Barrett Hart, fellow facilitator and master trainer.

Following the training, participants will be given an opportunity to train community psychosocial support volunteers as they undergo supervision, mentorship, and coaching from the master trainers. Remote monthly mentorship and coaching will help the new trainees improve their skills as well as provide space for the trainees to learn from each other through sharing experiences. By the end of the one-year mentorship and coaching process, the chief trainers will produce a manual customized with case studies and experiences of South Sudan. 


UNDP’s Peace and Community Cohesion (PaCC) programme seeks to contribute to the reduction and mitigation of community level conflict and insecurity by investing in initiatives that address key drivers of conflict and insecurity. The project empowers communities to identify in an inclusive and participatory manner the roots of conflicts in their communities, and using an integrated and gender- sensitive approach, support the communities to effectively prevent, manage and resolve conflict in a non-violent manner. The project also strengthens community relationships by identifying and strengthening cultural, social and economic connectors that make communities reliant on each other in times of peace and conflict. This work was made possible with funding from the Government of Sweden. 

Learn more about UNDP's work in Peace and Community Cohesion in South Sudan.

Chief of Programmes for the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) in South Sudan Lars Johansson, poses with participants of the training during the opening ceremony. Photo: UNDP