Parindey, founded by Sonal Dhanani, is a social enterprise working to build resilient communities through wellness, peace building and mental health programs in Pakistan.
In Pakistan and other third world countries, there are only two practitioners for every 100,000 mental health patients. In comparison, there are 75 professionals for 100,000 patients in the developed countries. There is an increasing need for Mental Health Promotion (MHP) among adolescents, especially in developing countries like Pakistan with limited resources and rapid socio-demographic transition. According to the World Health Organization, every 40 seconds, one person commits suicide while in Pakistan 15 to 34 people commit suicide daily in the age distribution bracket of 15 to 29 years. With the growing burden of mental health problems among adolescents (suicide, depression) and their preferences to seek help from their peers, improving Mental Health Literacy (MHL) and behaviours for First Aid in Mental Health (MH-FA) becomes crucial to promote their mental health. Looking at the need especially in the region of Gilgit Baltistan; Parindey initiated Guftugu program which focuses on making mental health first aid possible through school trauma informed model.
Community stakeholder expressed “This is first of its kind program which is involving vulnerable youth, teachers and parents and that too for a week long journey otherwise we have only seen 1 day awareness sessions either with youth or open for public but programs like Guftugu will bring behavioral shifts.”
Guftagu took place from August 12 to 18 in the Taus and Barkolti regions of Yasin, in District Ghizer delivered by staff and mentors of Parindey, an NGO based out of Karachi but with operations across the country. Parindey, with its focus on mental health education and promotion for youth, was responsible for conducting a week-long series of sessions for youth at two government schools, as well as three days of professional development sessions for teachers focusing at how to integrate mental health techniques into classroom teachings, and two days for parents sessions. Aiming to tackle this issue through a holistic approach in which students, parents and teachers were involved in processes of discussion, debate, and collaboration to brainstorm strategies and solutions to the mental health crisis that plagues the region, Guftagu employed the arts as a tool to facilitate conversation and expression.
One of the Barkolti shared “No one ever before this program in school asked me to share what’s inside my heart and to share what am I feeling? This was the first time I felt it was important to talk about my feeling and for others it was important to listen as well”
The Guftagu staff team consisted of members from across Pakistan, seeing representation from a variety of professionals from Northern, Central, and Southern regions of Pakistan,each of whom were responsible for facilitating sessions for either the 90 participating students in Taus, or the 79 in Barkolti. The sessions covered the themes of identity, resilience, empathy, creativity, story-telling, and responsible social media presence, all of which required the students to critically examine their biases, tendencies, and then see how the potential for positive change rested in their hands. The shift away from the traditional top-down, memorization-heavy approaches to education that the students were used to, to a method focused on self-discovery and creative expression had its challenges but proved to be a success.
The culmination of the students’ learnings was presented in an entirely student-developed production for all the staff at the schools, which included singing, poetry, recitation, drama and was a clear reflection of the increased levels of confidence, hope and articulation of self that the students journeyed through during the week.
One of the teachers from Taus shared:
“I never told my students that I love them and today during this training I feel guilt of not doing so; I feel this society pushed me to be unnecessary strict towards my students and that has cause trauma to many from now on I will go and express how much I love my students and incorporate soft teaching methodology in my classroom to boost confidence
of my students.”
Feedback from staff, students and parents was overwhelmingly positive, and the pilot project proved to be a success. Future iterations of this program are in the works. For more information follow @Parindey
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About Sonal Dhanani
Sonal Dhanani is an award winning mental health advocate, creative professional, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner and trauma-informed facilitator keen on promoting education, mental health initiatives and social action in Pakistan. Sonal was member of Pakistan’s first National youth Council by Prime Minister Imran Khan. In 2015, after losing a loved one in terrorist attack at Ismaili community; Sonal realized the need of mental health recreational wellbeing in Pakistan and started an initiative called Parindey which focuses on countering and preventing violent extremism in Pakistan through the soft approach of introducing mental health and peacebuilding programs. Through this organization, Sonal is participating in the mainstream process of peace at the people-to-people level.
Sonal’s purpose of work and aim for peaceful Pakistan is to break down the stigma that surrounds speaking out about mental health issues and her work aims to make a significant difference in the world, changing perceptions about mental wellbeing. Sonal was the first one to introduce and take art and music therapy to vulnerable communities with focus of providing platform to youth to channelize their emotions in the positive way and counter violence in society.
For more information on Sonal Dhanani and honours bestowed upon her, visit Change Makers of Pakistan