A Crazy Big Idea
Every time I say it, I get overwhelmed. “We are starting a new NGO.” EEK! It sounds so big and official. And it is.
Our vision is big: to be one of the leading mental health organizations in Zambia.
Our work is official: we are registered as an NGO and connected to the leading psychologists in the country.
But it is also not-so big and official. Our heart is to be a listening ear. And even though we have negative zero dollars at the moment, we can’t help but say yes when students in need have been reaching out to us. The moment we set up our twitter, facebook, and instagram accounts, messages asking for help started flooding in.
Not to bash on this country because it is a lovely country, but the mental health support in Zambia is sorely lacking. And that is just a fact. There is ONE counseling center for the whole country. And even if we did want to send people there, it is 6 hours away in the capitol and costs and arm and a leg. You can count the number of psychologists in the country on your two hands even though the most commonly diagnosed mental illness is depression. And the common understanding of mental health is low, so a youth may be guilt-tripped or shamed if they are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness.
So we decided to step up to the plate. We are not licensed counselors and neither are our volunteers. It is a grass-roots effort to bring support from below. In one of my recent conversations with a therapist friend, she said “ANYONE can help someone that is struggling to feel like they are heard and important. ANYONE can help someone move towards healthy coping techniques. You don’t have to have a license to do that.” Even that kind of support can bring positive change. And if/when it does get to a point where one of our students needs more official support than we can give, we have those connections to refer them to the absolute best care in the country. (Hopefully in the future we will even have funds to help them if they cannot afford it.)
As an organization, we have one leg-up. My co-founder Luyando has been in the same position as these youths we are trying to help. He is Zambian, young, and been through a severe bout of depression. So he knows exactly what to say (and even more, what NOT to say). He knows how and where to reach out to these youth. And they have been coming to us in floods. We are currently counseling 15 students (both face-to-face and distance) and we have referred one student to the local hospital ward already.
So this crazy big idea we had is actually becoming a reality.