The Garrison Institute’s Contemplative-Based Resilience (CBR) Project recently held a four-day training from November 8 – 11 in the eastern province of Rwanda. Thirty-three national and international humanitarian aid workers from Mercy Corps attended the training, primarily those on the front lines of major conflicts in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic.
“Some participants arrived rigid and troubled by things they had experienced in the field,” CBR Faculty Member Carla Uriarte said. “The transformation that took place during the training was impressive.”
While most humanitarian aid workers enter the field for altruistic reasons, the suffering they encounter on a daily basis often leads to stress and burnout. This has a negative impact on the workers themselves, the organizations they represent, and the populations they serve. The CBR Project grew out of the need to provide support for humanitarian aid workers, by helping them develop coping strategies that they can use to continue performing their important work.
“We are committed to creating a space where humanitarian aid workers can draw on the compassion that brought them to this work in the first place,” said Diana Rose, Project Director.
The CBR Project draws on the insight from aid practitioners and experts in psychology, trauma, meditation, and movement to create programs that support humanitarian aid professionals to build resilience. The training empowers individuals through teaching them contemplative-based mind, breath, and body practices.
Most of the participants at the Rwanda training had not practiced meditation or yoga before but almost all left with enthusiasm and energy to bring these practices into their lives and their work.
“What is most important for me is that I truly believe that they left the training with more tools to not only cope but thrive in the field and their life in general,” Uriarte said.
The Rwanda training was conducted in French and English, and had faculty from the U.S., Spain, and Switzerland. Our faculty included Hugh Byrne, Stephanie Kohler, Teri Sivilli, Carla Uriarte, and Maximilien Zimmermann.
During a coffee break on the morning of the final day, Sivilli sat with a man who had recently experienced a traumatic experience while in the field. She asked him how he was feeling.
“I am better,” he said. “And I will continue to feel better and better.”