Palo Alto University Activities in Central African Republic
Central African Republic (CAR) is considered the world’s least developed country. Among 188 countries surveyed in the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index, the Central African Republic ranks last. The landlocked former French colony has suffered upheavals for decades. and since December 2012, civil war has been ongoing. The rise of the Seleka coalition in the Central African Republic and the reactive emergence of the anti-Balaka militias have sparked political turmoil. Approximately 6,000 people have been killed, and about a million have been displaced, half within the country and half to neighboring countries. The UN has inserted 12,000 peacekeepers in an effort to quell the violence.
While many public institutions in CAR have collapsed, religious institutions remain strong and widely respected. Faith leaders have a key role to play in defusing religion as a driver in the conflict. Using their good offices, they can establish spaces for people to come together across faith lines to address the economic issues that are at the root of the problems. The CAR Interreligious Platform recognizes the complex roots of CAR’s social division and has set out to address them in a consortium with Catholic Relief Services, Islamic Relief Worldwide, World Vision International and Aegis Trust.
Because of its expertise in research methods and trauma treatment, Palo Alto University was invited by the CAR Interfaith Peacebuilding Partnership to develop and evaluate pre-existing trauma healing and peace education programs. These programs, whose goal is to reduce trauma in order to enable receptivity to peace, have never been conducted together, and neither has been subjected to scientific testing in CAR, or anywhere else for that matter.
Improving Intervention Assessment Techniques
The project involves the initial assessment of participants to identify who appears to be suffering from trauma symptoms. Those individuals are then assigned to either peace education, trauma healing or a wait list control group. After each workshop, the participants are assessed for their levels of PTSD, anxiety and depression.
The study is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through a grant to CRS. Data collection will end in 2017, and the analyses will be reported in 2018. Preliminary results are currently being disseminated by both PAU researchers and by CRS staff.
In addition to providing data on the effectiveness of post-trauma interventions, the project also offers relief agencies a new awareness of how to measure the impact of some of their initiatives. For example, prior assessments have typically been in terms of the number of people who attended trauma workshops, without assessing the actual psychological impact of the intervention. Evidence of program effectiveness can give relief agencies and funders more confidence in their work and its outcomes.
The collaboration between CRS and PAU has led to submission of another USAID grant proposal. A funding decision is expected in the near future.
Central African Republic Christians, Muslims unite to heal trauma (Thompson/Reuters Foundation News)