Humanitarian aid is crucial and rewarding work often performed under highly stressful conditions. There is growing recognition of aid workers’ need for psychosocial support and skills to strengthen their resilience. Like the aid agencies working with us, the Contemplative-Based Resilience (CBR) Project addresses the realities of the field with a humanitarian spirit, caring for aid workers just as they care for crisis-affected populations.
Aid workers not only work with trauma, they also live with it. Immersion in disrupted, difficult and dangerous environments exposes them to traumatic stress, along with their clients. In Syria, West Africa, Haiti and countless other conflict and disaster zones around the world, chronic stress, threat of harm, and constant exposure to others’ suffering take their toll on aid workers. Up to 30% report symptoms of anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Exhaustion and burnout are occupational hazards. Aid organizations increasingly recognize their workers’ need for psychosocial support to help them cope and manage stress.
To address this need, the Garrison Institute created the Contemplative-Based Resilience (CBR) Project. Grounded in cutting-edge research on human resilience and contemplative practices, CBR training is an experiential skill-building program that teaches the “ABCs” of building resilience: awareness, balance and connection. It educates aid workers about the effects of chronic stress, gives them the cognitive tools to alleviate it. It draws on secular, non-religious contemplative techniques like meditation and yoga, which research shows have positive effects on brain activity, stress response, gene regulation and post-traumatic growth.
The CBR Project is demonstrating the efficacy of its trainings for workers in diverse settings and its potential to influence the culture of the aid field. As we work to extend the reach of the trainings, we’re also working to support the emergence of a new reality where fostering aid workers’ resilience and self-compassion is mission-critical to aid work. As the CBR Project Director Emmett Fitzgerald said, "We are committed to creating a space where humanitarian aid workers can draw on the compassion that brought them to this work in first place."
The Garrison Institute is pleased to offer this white paper, which integrates findings from more than 280 interdisciplinary research studies linking contemplative practice and resilience.
Download The Human Dimensions of Resilience
A great way to support this program is with a scholarship donation for aid workers to attend future trainings.
In 2014, the CBR Project held four resilience trainings on three continents, reaching humanitarian and emergency international aid workers deployed all over the world. After completing the trainings, participants told us the tools and theories they learned were of practical use for them, and would help them survive and thrive in their work.
In Rwanda, we provided CBR training for two teams of aid workers from the major aid agency, Mercy Corps. Mercy Corps is active in 40 countries, and 93% of its workers are nationals of the countries where they work. Working and living permanently in disrupted areas exposes them to unique stresses and risks. The Mercy Corps selected aid workers from the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to take the resilience training.
“Some participants arrived rigid and troubled by things they had experienced in the field,” said CBR Faculty Member Carla Uriarte, who taught the psychosocial education component of the training. “The transformation that took place during the training was impressive.”
Top Image: Courtesty of U.S. Department of Defense on Flickr
Thaddeus W.W. Pace
Gayla Marie Stiles