Traditionally in African family set up, fathers are the heads of families, the breadwinners while mothers are nurturers, care givers and home keepers. These two rely on each other for successful upbringing of the family, such that if you take one away, in this case incarcerate the father, the mother is left disoriented and completely at a loss, not knowing where to start from. The family becomes vulnerable in every sense of the word. AFIFA takes on the assumption that families who suffer loss of a breadwinner through death and the incarcerated families share one thing in common, grief. Grief of loss of the head of family, the soul provider.
In normal grief, the community comes to the aid of the grieving family to offer all sorts of support and assistance, to condole and mourn together, to assure each other of better days, the community does everything to suggest its helpfulness. When it comes to incarcerated families? Your guess is as good as mine, the community keeps off, the community do not want to be associated with such and subsequently stigma develops. The incarcerated families now have another task of dealing with the stigma and stress associated with it on top of already ongoing grief of loss of the family breadwinner which is a very difficult transition time.
AFIFA thus steps in to mediate, to help bridge this divide between the incarcerated families and the community, and proceed to achieve psychological wellbeing, emotional and mental health of these families alongside other wellness areas. The following are some of the major strategies put in place;
1. Social support.
2. Family therapy.
3. Support groups.
4. Community desensitization.
5. Community participation.
Social support is defined as day to day interactions with close relations that are available at times of need, who are willing to offer counsel and other forms of assistance from physical help to psychological and even financial assistance. There is therefore the need to ensure social ties to other individuals, such as neighbors, family, even other groups and eventually the larger community.
A healthy social support system will ensure resilience against stress and related cases such as depression and or post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), therefore mental health is achieved. Also, it boosts self-esteem of individual family members, they feel valued and wanted thus easening dealing with the ‘loss’.
AFIFA can achieve this through;
1. 24hour operational helpline, and physical help desks ready to offer accurate information and guidance as deemed fit for every special circumstance. Must have properly trained, courteous receptionists.
2. Social media platforms such as whats app groups, Facebook pages, name it.
3. Organize support groups, already in place-common goals and agenda.
4. Encourage interactions with neighbors, relatives, other family members, friends, church members.
5. Parental support; this is very important for the children, especially the adolescents. For a parent it is the first relationship a child builds within the family, the core of relationships. AFIFA could organize for prison visits, for specific cases such as adolescents who no doubt need a father figure in their growth and development to offer counsel and guidance. This is for keenly evaluated and chosen fathers deemed role models to these children.
6. Easily accessible and reliable legal representation, in times when arrests of spouses are made. This will require enlisting of a proper law firm.
7. Rallying support of area chief, mijikumis, and other relevant authorities in cases of maybe mistreatment from other family members or community at large. Here we could ensure the chief is within reach when needed, also have police helpline at the ready.
8. Psychosocial events. AFIFA organized get-togethers and meetings once in every while for these families, to share, check on each other’s wellbeing and even learn other copying skills from within themselves.
9. Counselling services; easily accessible counsel in times of crises or breakdowns. Recommending a trained professional, therapist, social workers.
10. Financial support is offered through, fee payment, ensuring continuity of education for the children, the mothers get encouraged to form “chamas” where they can save and borrow, they have income generating activities, offer basic financial education such as saving culture and teaching how to start and run own businesses. AFIFA could also partner with micro-finance institutes such as Kenya Women Microfinance Bank (KWFT), whose motto says it all “banking on women”. KWFT offers depositing, loaning and other necessary financial education deemed necessary for this course.
There is a great need to bring the community into awareness about the plight of these incarcerated families, the community has to know that just like death, incarceration or just arrests of spouses can come to anyone at any time. The community has to learn empathy and understanding when dealing with these specific families and only then will AFIFA have easy time running its activities within the community.
The general idea is to offer education on incarceration, correcting misinformation or contradicting negative attitudes, uncuff the families, the offender is already in jail. AFIFA has identified challenges faced by these families when participating in common community experiences thus it steps in to offer assistance by creating awareness about WIMA project and AFIFA as a whole umbrella in form of;
1. Targeted work with community stakeholders such as social workers, religious leaders(church and kadhis), chiefs, paralegal officers, etc.
2. Awareness through social gatherings, funerals, other celebrations.
3. AFIFA may partner with other organizations already known to the community such as child rights services, gender based violence bodies, other bodies working to support the community in one way or another.
4. Social medial platforms, Facebook pages, AFIFA web, twitter accounts, anything to reach the masses and inform them of this course.
5. Improve contact and interactions between the two sides. It is clear that lack in relations only fuels more discomfort, distrust and fear between community and the specific families. AFIFA could put in place prevention with positive (PWP) measures, a system of introducing successfully reformed ex-convicts, or a once incarcerated family who are ready to tell their story to the community. This subsequently helps overcome such interpersonal divides hence positive interaction and empowerment. Can be face to face contact or through monitored short video clips making rounds on social networks.
6. Mass media campaigns, TV and radio, print media coverage of these families’ stories and the entire AFIFA involvement, to reach the general public.
7. Advocacy through a legal firm; organize for peaceful protests partnering with influential opinion leaders such as political leaders, journalists and other community officials, with the goal of killing negative representation of these incarcerated families and subsequently help improve public awareness.
8. AFIFA calendar could incorporate participation in local community events which brings people together, such as sporting events and other celebrations.
Support groups are put together to help deal with a specific issue, say dealing with the stigma from community and coping with the loss of spouse to incarceration, which by all means is a difficult transition in life. The mothers are organized into support groups, bring them together, and give them a common agenda and work together to heal as a whole. Support groups meetings are run in specific places, say at a chosen church or within AFIFA premises. The meetings are open, to allow new members in and closed, with a joining process, guidelines and commitment which are held paramount.
Support groups are overseen by qualified professional counsellor who ensures it is safe, supportive and respectful to all members, also facilitates structure of meetings, choose topics etc. Social workers in the community help provide an interface between AFIFA and the community and even the health facilities within.
The children are not left out either, there is need for peer support groups, say, if they could meet over the school holidays or when in school, for majority attending same schools. Another possibility is end year psychosocial events where the children form their own support groups and even pick leaders from within themselves.
Members of support group are tasked with various activities such as income generating activities, for working together to achieve given goals improves trust , respect amongst themselves and so is self-confidence. Other fun activities under SCIP such as sporting events, hiking, talent shows also ensure creativity and abilities are nurtured.
Support groups help in providing emotional support to individual members hence reduced stress, there is information sharing on coping skills, encouraging better communication skills, build a capacity of self-advocacy or self-care and subsequently act as a pillar of social change and eventual inclusion in community and even national levels, and generally deal with the ‘grief’ and loss together.
Well facilitated support groups also help mothers share parenting skills within themselves and have a more steady approach to anxiety, from being left by the husbands who are in incarceration.
Family is the first unit of interaction, of social support. It affects every aspects of our lives, who we are and eventually who we become, for better or for worse. Therefore a healthy family relationship equates into our own healthy relationships with those around us, the community.
AFIFA requires the services of a mental health provider to help;
1. Conduct counselling sessions for these families. Offer guidance during this time of ‘grief’ and in dealing with the transitional crises, say the stress and confusion till the family is able to cope with the new normal.
2. Offer parenting education and appropriate parenting techniques to the mothers.
3. Offer insight on prevalence of any psychological disorders which may come from such loss of spouse or father, as depression, anxiety and PTSDs then give appropriate counsel or treatment plan.
4. Highlight any problematic relations, child or adolescent behavioral problems such as delinquencies and then help replace these with healthy alternatives.
5. Emphasize on holistic wellness, that is, social interactions, physical health (availability of health services), spiritual wellness and psychological wellness (general mental health care).
6. It goes without saying that AFIFA is now like father to these families, a complete family, therefore we need to strengthen our own relationships, professional of course, and will be a united front to motivate and give hope to these families.
7. Conflict resolution for family members, reduce source of tension, help bridge between family and its members who have been isolated (facilitate prison visits if need be through AFIFA). Basically bring the family together after such crisis.
- Hoping to further bridge and strengthen the relationship between the community and the incarcerated families and AFIFA as a whole organization, there is need to let in the community in some of the AFIFA run activities. AFIFA in this attempts;
1. Once in every while run charity events such as offering sanitary towels to young girls in the community, partner with relevant bodies to give needed health care services.
2. Partnering with relevant bodies, AFIFA could sponsor given sporting events, such as football tournaments for both gender, organize fun activities such as hiking, talent shows(music ,dancing competitions), art shows, all this ensures positive energy from the community.
3. Targeted work with influential and trusted local community stake holders, the chiefs, religious leaders, kadhis included, social workers, political leaders to an extent.
4. With time, create employment opportunities for community members, say grounds men to work within AFIFA premises, kitchen staff, name it. There is also possibility of internship opportunities with time, for latent talents, youngsters who wish to work as humanitarians or study in fields related to AFIFA line of operations.
A message from..
Mr. Geoffrey Otieno.
A psychologist /counselor