Healing Practices of Internally Displaced Persons

Start date: 21 August, 2011 End date: 21 September, 2011 Project type: Master's Thesis (prior to 2018) Project code: A13494 Countries: Guatemala Institutions: University of Copenhagen (UCPH), Denmark Grant recipient: Tatiana Lariza Romero Fonseca Total grant: 10,000 DKK


Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are people that were forced to flee their homes for wellfounded fear of being persecuted or to avoid the effects of armed conflict, violence or human rights violations. There are 27.5 million IDPs worldwide as of 2010; millions of IDPs have been displaced for at least 10 years. Therefore, long-term displacement is a serious emergency/disaster.
The IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) has been developed over several years as a joint approach for humanitarian workers. It notes that excess levels of stress in disasters can be expected, not only due to the disaster itself, but also to the resulting lack of basic needs and lack of protection of human rights. These can result in stress-related illnesses, both mental and physical. Thus, the
response should be both in terms of health care, but also in terms of fulfilling these needs.
The number of IDPs in Guatemala has not being determined. However, long-term displacement in Guatemala is present, a striking fact especially when 15 years have past since the 36-year civil war ended. During the civil war, 80% of the people living in the highlands of Guatemala, in the department of Quiché, were displaced. IDPs have not received adequate support by governmental institutions and long-term effects on their psychosocial well-being exist.
The present field study analyzes the healing practices for stress-related illnesses in Nebaj, inside the Quiché department, in Guatemala. The IASC guidelines and the explanatory model are the theoretical framework of the research. It was a qualitative study with a triangulation of methods: individual and collective interviews to IDPs, and field notes from key informants and health-related people, including a focus group discussion with traditional healers.
Based on the findings, it is concluded that the IASC guidelines should (1) emphasise a long-term view of emergencies and (2) embrace as a key factor cultural competence, which will operationalize affordable, accessible and effective psychosocial support in emergencies. Cultural competence creates a new attitude to approach differences in health care as something to enrich professions instead of creating elite professions, always oriented to support sustainable and local solutions.