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African visitors at the Training Institute

Oct 11, 2022

On September 1st, the Training Institute hosted a training with a unique and special group of foreign visitors from Africa. Organized by the Department of State, representatives of 13 African nations, including Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali, visited the United States for three weeks to review the government’s strategies to combat international human trafficking by examining the formulation, administration, and enforcement of U.S. policy on the national, state, and local levels. The goal of the visit was to explore initiatives to recognize, protect, and assist victims of abuse and trafficking, including victim recovery and reintegration programs. The last leg of their U.S. visit was a visit to People Incorporated for a training session on Vicarious Trauma and Compassion Fatigue before flying home the next day. This was the fourth time the Training Institute has been invited to lead a Department of State training; our other visitors were from South Korea, Iraq, and Latin America.

Wearing an earpiece for simultaneous translation into French by the team of Department of State interpreters, I led the session and walked participants through what for us is familiar mental health territory; definitions and conceptualizations of compassion fatigue, compassion satisfaction, burnout, empathic regard, the physiology of stress responses, and how to balance one’s autonomic nervous system through activation of the vagus nerve. Despite being, among other titles, the Head of Criminal Affairs, Head of Special Police, Counseling Manager for Women and Children Victims of Violence, and Director General of the Fight against Trafficking in Persons, they were not familiar with the concept of vicarious trauma, and particularly how the “Body Keeps the Score” to quote Van Der Kolk.

Discussion of the concepts was polite and somewhat restrained by the language barrier as well as the participants’ deference to the supposed authority of the speaker, but when the room opened up, there was, at times, lively debate that had a variety of culturally diverse voices. One discussion of “coping strategies” was postponed for further deliberation “on the bus” – I wish I could have heard that one. I do hope that the participants consider the role that constant exposure to trauma and chronic stress may be playing in their lives as they embark on what must sometimes seem like hopelessly difficult work. On reflection, I feel honored that our People Incorporated team was able to make a small contribution to their work as they strive to help some of the most marginalized people in the world.

Written by Russ Turner, Director, Training Institute, TrainingInstitute.org

List of participants by country and title:

Algeria, Head, Office of Criminal Affairs, Judicial Police Directorate, Algerian National Police

Benin, Head, Service of Promotion of the Fight Against Child Labor, Headquarters, Ministry of Labor

Burkina Faso, Head, Special Police, Ouagadougou International Airport

Burkina Faso, Director General, Studies and Sectoral Statistics, Ministry of Women, National Solidarity, Family, and Humanitarian Action

Burundi, Adviser, Development Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Comoros, Counselling Manager, Assistance for Women and Children Victims of Violence, Counselling Unit, Hospital of Hombo, Anjouan

Democratic Republic of the Congo, Provincial Coordinator, National Commission for Human Rights

Djibouti, President, Court of First Instance, Court House

Guinea, Legal Advisor, Promotion of Women and Children, Ministry of Social Affairs

Guinea, Head, Office for the Protection of Gender, Children, and Morals, Ministry of Security and Civil Protection

Mali, Gender Focal Point, Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, Mopti

Niger, Director General, National Agency for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons and the Illicit Transport of Migrants

Republic of the Congo, Prosecutor, Pointe-Noire Criminal Court

Senegal, Project Coordinator

Tunisia, Judge, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, Ministry of Justice