A Faith-sensitive approach in humanitarian response: Guidance on mental health and psychosocial programming

A faith-sensitive approach in humanitarian settings: Guidance on mental health and psychosocial programming

Humanitarian agencies have become increasingly aware of the importance of religion in the lives of those they seek to assist and of the potential value of more effective engagement with local faith actors in humanitarian settings. Equally, however, there is concern about how to address these issues in a way that does not threaten humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality, nor risk heightening any existing religious tensions.

The Lutheran World Federation and Islamic Relief Worldwide has developed a guidance to provide practical support to those involved in planning humanitarian programming who seek to be more sensitive to the faith perspectives and resources of the communities within which they are working. It focuses particularly on the programming area of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), but in a manner that seeks to provide pointers for more faith sensitive humanitarian programming overall.

The guidance is closely aligned with the existing IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings (2007). The IASC MHPSS Guidelines are a familiar framework for most global humanitarian actors. By developing faith-sensitive guidance within this structure, we aim to provide for a consistent approach of value to both faith-based and non-faith-based actors. The focus throughout is on the faith and resources of communities impacted by humanitarian emergencies, not on the faith tradition (or not) of humanitarian providers.

Using the structure of the IASC MHPSS Guidelines also ensures a suitably broad perspective on how faith impacts on well-being and mechanisms of support in humanitarian settings – at the level of organisations, communities, families and individuals. The guidance relates both to the spiritual nurture of individuals, families and communities and to the engagement of local faith communities and religious leaders during humanitarian emergencies. The guidance has been developed at a time when there is increasing commitment to the localisation of humanitarian response. While there is consideration given to how local faith actors can be helpful in delivery of international agency programmes, there is greater emphasis on how to establish partnerships such that local capacities and perspectives genuinely shape programming. The guidance has been drafted with a view to strengthening psychosocial support by securing more effective engagement with the faith resources of individuals and communities.

However, while religion can be a powerful source of coping and resilience, it may also be used to promote harmful practices or undermine humanitarian programming efforts. The guidance therefore seeks to guide humanitarian actors in weighing strategies of local faith engagement in a manner fully mindful of the “do no harm” imperative. This invariably will involve developing a deeper contextual understanding of the role of religion and religious actors in a humanitarian setting.

The project advisory group comprises Church of Sweden, IFRC Reference Centre for Psychosocial Support, HIAS, Islamic Relief Worldwide, LWF, UNHCR and World Vision. The lead project consultants are Wendy Ager, Alastair Ager, Rebecca Horn

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