A group of ten people sit around a table, eyes-closed with palms down, relaxed posture, and feet planted firmly. Inhale. Exhale. This is not a yoga class, but rather a team meeting. Each team member is centering through a mindfulness breathing exercise. Each team member is invited to take deep, mind-cleansing breaths to prepare for the workday ahead.
The world news cycle seems to bring a new humanitarian crisis to the attention of the global stage on a daily basis. Government agencies, non-governmental organizations and private international organizations are committed to protecting the world’s most vulnerable, but that begs the question: who is protecting aid workers?
Mental health pressures affect federal agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), as the employees who further the Agency’s vision are exposed to global trauma and suffering on a daily basis. On January 23, 2010, just five days into USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah’s time in office, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake left the Republic of Haiti devastated. In the years that followed, the Ebola crisis began, leaving humanitarian organizations overworked and sometimes overwhelmed. In response, the international aid and development communities have expressed a growing commitment to mindfulness, neuroscience and scientifically-infused stress mitigation practices.
In response to this demand, Greenleaf Integrative, a Small and Disadvantaged Business (SDB) based in Arlington, VA, is supporting the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to provide “lasting wellbeing solutions for demanding work environments.” The most visible of Greenleaf’s services is the Operational Stress Mitigation trainings at OFDA, though any observer will find that several other courses amplify the message.
The 2014-2016 Ebola crisis was a wake-up call to members of the development community. The outbreak of Ebola required an already thin-spread workforce to refocus their efforts on the complex Ebola response. Upon returning from the crisis response, aid workers were under-equipped to cope with the stress and trauma that ensued after witnessing mass casualties. Reintegration into the workforce would entail confronting anxiety over infection risk on an unprecedented scale at OFDA.
Greenleaf Integrative, with its trauma-informed lens and psychologically-savvy practitioners, collaborated with the OFDA senior management team to evolve a training experience that allows participants to build a toolbox of techniques and strategies to use before, during, and after humanitarian responses. Greenleaf’s Training Unit staff are able to build custom curricula for OFDA-specific operational realities with sound instructional design principles to complement the well-developed psychosocial support all USAID staff have from the StaffCare Center.
For OFDA, it is important to not only treat the symptoms of the aid worker’s trauma and stress but to also create a culture that actively mitigates unnecessary stress. The Greenleaf Integrative team is already seeing positive results from its efforts with participants attesting to better supervisor support and a greater appreciation for acute and chronic stress that are specific to humanitarian assistance. This positive, upward trend is encouraging, as we continue our effort to support aid workers.
Greenleaf Integrative delivers a suite of Customized Operational & Functional Training to the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Office of Food for Peace as a preferred subcontractor for Macfadden-PAE’s Humanitarian Assistance Support Contract with USAID’s Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. As Greenleaf continues its work with these communities, the team aspires to support the current and future generations of aid workers in helping the world’s most vulnerable.