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The mental health lifeline for abuse survivors in Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, survivors of violence and abuse have little access to mental health services to manage the trauma they’ve experienced. VSO supporters are empowering VSO volunteers to be there for people who have suffered.

Juliet's story

Juliet, pictured at home.

Juliet, from north-west Zimbabwe, at just 19 years old has been through so much. She had always excelled at school, but then everything changed. She was forced to marry at the tender age of 14.

Juliet shared how "my boyfriend forced me to have sex and I became pregnant. Everyone shamed me. I tried continuing my studies, but ended up failing my exams as I had no help." Today "everyday is a struggle and I feel like I have nothing."

Sadly, it's a typical experience for many girls. Christon Zimbizi, VSO project officer supporting survivors explain how "many girls are married at 14 or 15. So many have experienced violence and rape, and still live with their abusers."

The importance of mental health

Group sessions are a rare chance for women to gather and find support.

For women like Juilet, there are few avenues to seek support. “People here don’t think mental health exists,” says Christon. Stigma exists.

In Zimbabwe, just three public hospitals have the infrastructure for mental health support, serving a population of nearly 15 million, while it’s typical for counselling sessions to cost around $60. For so many women in Mbire, mental health support is unaffordable and out of reach.

Papa Diouf, Global Practice Area Lead for Health at VSO, has witnessed how mental health has become a more pressing issue. Especially during and after the covid-19 pandemic. “As a survivor, if you don't receive the support you need, what do you do? Where do you turn to?”

The power of healing and sharing

VSO-supported peer groups are helping survivors heal and recover from trauma. Led by a trained counsellor, women can speak about what they're going through and have one-to-one support.

One participant shares “I thought my story was the worst in the community. As we went on, I realised that we were all survivors of violence and child marriage.”

These weekly meetings are helping women become more resilient to their challenges. Critically, 'Speak it Loud' project is embedded into the community guaranteeing ongoing support through local organisations trained by VSO. 

For now, Juliet has been supported by meeting women with similar experiences. She has received also received financial support for school fees to return to school. Her focus is on educating herself and her children. Through training from VSO she is helping others in need access health services.

Juliet is young. She has a chance at a brighter future with education, to improve her family and community and heal from the trauma she’s experienced.

Will you fund the change you want to see today?

VSO has now helped 28,000 people access urgently needed information and services. However, there are so many more women with little support and nowhere to turn to. Christon is afraid for these women. "My deepest fear is the cycle of abuse continues."

Please, if you can, donate today and help women like Juliet access vital counselling support and group sessions keeping women safe and helping them heal.

Donate now