Visiting a prison is a chilling experience. Visiting a prison where people have died under torture is an unforgettable experience.
User Experiences of Médecins du Monde’s Mental Health Programme in South Lebanon
In September 2000, the international medical organisation Médecins du Monde (MDM) and the Lebanese NGO AMEL launched a comprehensive health and psychosocial support programme for residents of the Southern Lebanon area unlawfully occupied by the state of Israel from 1978 to May 2000. For 22 years, these residents lived in what was a de facto no-man’s land, cut off from the rest of the world and isolated from all forms of social development, economic growth and democratic governance. Some 5,000 Lebanese men and women who refused to collaborate with Israel and fought in armed resistance were captured, detained without trial and tortured at the infamous Khiam Prison. This was the group targeted by MDM’s mental health programme. For two years, local and expatriate psychologists and social workers helped over 500 ex-detainees and their families overcome the personal and social traumas associated with unlawful incarceration and torture and their sequelae.
Living as I was in Southern Lebanon in the post-May 2000 period, I was familiar with MDM’s programme and collaborated with its staff on a number of occasions. During 2002, when MDM was preparing the programme handover, I was formally brought on board with the mandate of evaluating users’ views and experiences of the mental health programme and of channelling their recommendations to AMEL (which was undertaking the programme handover). Combining desk research and individual and group semi-structured interviews with ex-detainees and local and expatriate MDM staff, we identified factors that facilitated or hindered implementation of services as envisaged in the programme’s initial objectives, documented the mechanisms by which the programme’s philosophy adapted to a population known to be suspicious of non-pharmacological approaches (i.e., talk psychotherapy) to treating the distress associated with torture and armed conflict, and finally, proposed guidelines for similar programme adaption wherever MDM was to operate in the future.
Read more about how the programme has evolved in AMEL’s website.
- Paré, M.-H. (2002). Étude évaluative du programme de santé mentale de Médecins du Monde-France à Khiam au Liban-Sud :
Une expérience pilote de partenariat avec l’ONG libanaise Amel. Saida, Lebanon.
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As a freelance methodologist, I train social scientists and humanitarian practitioners in qualitative analysis, decolonising research and participatory methodologies. I coach research teams, teach doctoral-level courses in method schools and I consult for humanitarian aid agencies worldwide.