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InPsych 2017 | Vol 39

June | Issue 3

Psychology in current issues

Women prefer peace: The 2016-17 APS Intercultural Grant

Women prefer peace: The 2016-17 APS Intercultural Grant

The APS Grant for Intercultural and/or International Projects supports innovative projects that have an intercultural and/or international focus. The 2016-17 Grant was awarded to Ms Colleen Turner FAPS, for a project titled ‘Keeping ourselves safe: Women prefer peace’. The project sought to partner with the provincial government and the local university in the town of Bor in South Sudan to establish a hub for women and children, providing a safe place from which to enable educational, employment and enterprise opportunities.

South Sudan became an independent country in 2011 after a long civil war from which many refugees fled to Australia on humanitarian grounds.

InPsych

How did you become involved with the project?

The idea for this project was developed in collaboration with the women of the township of Bor in South Sudan in May 2016. As part of my role as Project Manager for Victorian Cooperative on Children's Services for Ethnic Groups (VICSEG) New Futures, I had been working with the South Sudanese refugee community in Melbourne developing and supporting programs for families, children and young people. Presenting a paper at the 6th International Conference in Community Psychology in Durban gave me an ideal opportunity to visit South Sudan to gain first-hand knowledge of conditions in that country.

As part of my trip I was invited to visit my friend and colleague, the Honourable Rachel Riak, who is a member of the Provincial Government of Bor – about 200 kilometres south of the capital, Juba. Bor was a site of fighting in the long-running civil war and remains politically unstable.

My hosts worked hard to ensure I could navigate the complicated visa process and be comfortable and safe in what was described as “the second least peaceful country in the world”. The flight from Juba to Bor by light plane gave me glorious views of the river Nile as it snaked across the green and fertile lands of South Sudan. Rachel and I later hired a boat and travelled along the same stretch of the Nile to a camp established for people fleeing Bor in 2013.

The idea for the project now supported by the APS grant came about when I met under the trees in the marketplace with the ‘women’s parliament’. Convened by a female member of parliament, this group provides women with an opportunity to raise questions to be put to the more formal Parliament. The women talked to me about the many difficulties they and their children had been living under since the renewed outbreak of civil war in their town in 2013 – a conflict I knew had affected many of my colleagues and friends in Australia.

I asked how I could help and, after much discussion, we agreed that a simple achievable first step would be to establish what they described as a ‘woman’s compound’ in Bor. The compound would be a safe place for a group of women and their children to live and one that could foster programs for recovery from the trauma of war.

After that meeting Rachel and I talked about how we might begin such a project. We decided it might be best undertaken in partnership with the provincial government and the local university. The university strongly supports the project because their enrolments are very heavily biased in favour of young men and this project would help establish educational pathways for girls and young women, while also developing immediately useful skills. The women’s parliament was delighted to be a reference group for the establishment of the project.

On returning home I wrote, with Rachel’s help, an application to the APS for a small intercultural grant to seed the project. In the meantime, Rachel gained approval for a small plot of land on the road near the township, and organised a quote for construction of buildings from local materials. The grant will cover the cost of establishing communal buildings and a compound fence.

What qualities and skills have been most useful to you in this project?

The project is very much a community psychology project, taking its direction from the people who will most benefit – women and children in the township of Bor. My community psychology background and experience in writing funding applications have been valuable, as was my contact with influential members of the community in Bor. The project’s success will be based on it being grounded within the local community, particularly with the elders among the women, whose leadership will enable it to be implemented effectively.

I am very grateful for the support of the Community College, the Women and Psychology Interest Group and the Psychology and Cultures Interest Group in putting forward an application for this project. I will be calling on those groups for further support as the project is implemented.

Is there a take home message for psychologists in Australia?

I met many Australians in South Sudan who had returned to their country of birth to use the skills gained in Australia to help develop the infrastructure desperately needed there. There is enormous natural beauty and natural resources in this very young country, including the strong and determined people. The women of South Sudan in particular have strength, courage and dignity. The public perception of the significant South Sudanese community in Australia does not recognise those qualities; we are often presented with a deficit-view based on very little information or context.

The take-home message for psychologists here is the need to continue to develop the valuable work Australia has begun by working in partnership to enhance the social capital of the new nation. One practical way could be to support women and girls from South Sudan to gain a formal education in Australia.

APS Grant for Intercultural and/or International Projects 2017

CALL FOR APPLICATIONS

Applications are now open for the 2017 APS Grant to encourage and support innovative projects that have an intercultural and/or international focus. Applications should aim to develop and implement a project that is culturally meaningful for the target country or community and its people, and that promotes intercultural collaborations between Australian psychologists and those in the specified region.

The value of the Grant is $5,000. The Grant is to be used to support the establishment and implementation of a successful and sustainable project. The Grant is not intended to support research projects unless there is a clearly demonstrable outcome in relation to the aims of the Grant.

Further information on the criteria for the Grant can be obtained from /about/awards/intercultural

Closing date for applications: Monday 2 October 2017

For enquiries about the Grant please contact interculturalgrant@psychology.org.au

References

Disclaimer: Published in InPsych on June 2017. The APS aims to ensure that information published in InPsych is current and accurate at the time of publication. Changes after publication may affect the accuracy of this information. Readers are responsible for ascertaining the currency and completeness of information they rely on, which is particularly important for government initiatives, legislation or best-practice principles which are open to amendment. The information provided in InPsych does not replace obtaining appropriate professional and/or legal advice.