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COVID-19 Stories of Change: SPANS, Zimbabwe

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These are testing times for the mental health projects we are working with. Each has had to think quickly, adapt & overcome challenges due to COVID-19. Each has had a unique journey, which we're going to share through our COVID-19 Stories of Change series.

The Society for Pre and Post Natal Services (SPANS), Zimbabwe provides mental health support to new mothers and fathers. They work in clinics and conduct family visits within the community.

What were the greatest challenges?

As many countries, Zimbabwe went through a period of lockdown around March due to COVID-19. The SPANS team runs a counselling and family therapy training program, which unfortunately had to stop due to the lockdown. Even though the team could have delivered some of the training online, this was not possible due to a lack of funds.

However, the SPANS team was also quick to adapt their activities to meet the needs of people during the pandemic in other ways. The team realised that mental health awareness related to COVID-19 was especially necessary, and within a week, they drafted a proposal for the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) and obtained many approvals at this institution to carry on with their work. In this process, the most important challenge has been securing funding to be able to do their work. Funding is essential as they aim for their awareness activities to reach as many communities in their district. Some communities are in rural and remote areas and transport is expensive.

How have they adapted?

The SPANS teams were quick to adapt their awareness raising activities to address the poor mental health needs of communities arising due to COVID-19.

Besides their timely contact with the MoHCC, SPANS also started having conversations with Ember early in the pandemic about ways in which the organisation could support their work. SPANS received the Ember Wellbeing and Transformation Funds. The SPANS team made sure to make the most of these funds and was able to provide mental health education and support to communities for a few months. As part of Ember's Wellbeing Package, the SPANS team also received group counselling sessions delivered by Body and Soul, a trauma-informed charity, and training in a narrative therapy methodology called Tree of Life by its creator, Ncazelo Ncube-Mlilo.

The stress and uncertainty that came with the pandemic affected team members, but the SPANS team made sure to have continued communication through WhatsApp groups to support each other. The SPANS team also believe that obtaining permissions from the MoHCC also boosted their morale. During such difficult times, it was very valuable to them to feel they were doing something worthwhile for their communities.

What were the enablers?

SPANS were able to conduct most of their activities, with the support and approval from MoHCC. The team has spent many years building a relationship with the Republic of Zimbabwe’s MoHCC, which has been key in enhancing their ability to carry on with their work. Besides having a good relationship with the MoHCC, they have also formed a partnership with the government’s mental health department which has reinforced support and recognition to their work.

The team’s responsiveness and commitment to fight misconceptions and stigma related to mental health, poor mental health and mental Illness have been important drivers for SPANS, particularly in the face of the important funding challenges that persist.

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