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20240423_103851-min © Elisabetta Dozio pour Action contre la Faim


Democratic Republic of Congo

North-Kivu: the psychological distress of the displaced


Elisabetta Dozio is in charge of supervising the mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) programs set up in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In April, she visited several camps for displaced persons in North Kivu.

“I am used to going to IDP camps, but this experience was very violent. I haven’t seen anything like it for a long time. Living conditions are unbearable. People are living in makeshift shelters, many of them in very small spaces. When it rains, the ground gets muddy and the tarpaulins get damaged and torn. Conditions are very unhealthy, with very limited access to drinking water. Food distributions are inadequate and people are going hungry. The humanitarian response is not meeting needs.”

Two months after her visit, Elisabetta Dozio is still deeply affected by her encounters with the displaced persons. Most have been victims or witnesses of traumatic events: attacks by armed groups, forced displacement, violence. Displaced people face an emotional burden that can prevent them from looking after themselves or their children. So to help them control their emotions and try to ease their anxiety, Action contre la Faim has been offering an emotional stabilization protocol since 2022. Elisabetta Dozio attended these sessions led by psychosocial workers, to make sure that the activities are well adapted to the needs of the displaced people.

20240423_102948-min © Elisabetta Dozio pour Action contre la Faim
20240423_105157-min © Elisabetta Dozio pour Action contre la Faim


It is difficult to work on post-traumatic stress while the crisis is still ongoing, both in the camp and on its outskirts. The Emotional Stabilization Protocol is not psychotherapy. It provides tools for managing anxiety, intrusive thoughts and nightmares. It helps people in distress to regain a sense of security and emotional stability that can encourage them to focus on what they can control.

It is normal to have nightmares,” explains Elisabetta Dozio, “but these men and women need to be given the opportunity to take control of what is happening to them. In the flood of emotions, sometimes a positive thought comes to mind. “Some see their village in their thoughts, and they see it rebuilt. For a moment they are soothed and they don’t want to go back to reality.”

Sometimes darker thoughts take over. Like thoughts of suicide. Elisabetta Dozio recalls several testimonials. One said: “I’m alone, the only solution is to die. Another said: “We’d rather go back under the bombs than die of cholera or hunger“.

During these sessions, men and women are separated. Children are divided into age groups and also take part in breathing and relaxation exercises. It is for them that Elisabetta Dozio worries most.

“What will become of these children? How can we hope to limit the circle of repetition of violence when we live like this?”

Children are included in the emotional stabilization protocol from an early age: some babies are just a few months old. Particular attention is also paid to pregnant and breast-feeding women, to limit the transmission of stress from mother to child.

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