Build your own Buddy - mental health program in South Sudan

13 Apr 2021

In 2020 an innovative mental health program for pre-school children in South Sudan was developed by TNO in collaboration with Help a Child. Build your own Buddy (Bob) consists of a group-program for children aged 5 to 7 years and a parallel program for parents, aiming to support them to cope with the consequences of psychotrauma. In January this year, the community counselors were trained. Due to corona this was done online, with great success.

Get in touch with Remy Vink and learn how to Build your own Buddy


Developing the program Build your own buddy

We aim to support pre-school children and their parents in South Sudanese host and refugee communities, to cope with the consequences of psychotrauma. In 2020 we worked on the development of the program Build your own buddy, based on scientific insights on the neurobiological and social-emotional development of children with psychotrauma. We established the theoretical framework, defined the structure of sessions, activities with children, key messages, working principles, materials, and tools for monitoring and evaluation.

A program consisting of eleven group-sessions for children and parents separately, was written and visualised in manuals and on posters.

A picture-book for children was designed by a local artist. The common thread in Build your own buddy is Bob the hare who, in each session experiences adventures with other animals, and tries out a new strategy to become calm and in control. To enhance impact during and after the sessions, the children create their own buddy ‘Bob’ from local materials. Bob helps the children to recognise and to deal with their feelings. Storytelling is a key element in African cultures, so we expect this approach to be suitable for children in South Sudan.

The program will be conducted by two community counsellors at a time, local professionals (teachers or social workers) living in the target communities and speaking the local language as well as English. Before doing so these professionals needed additional training.

Training local community counselors

All elements of the program as developed in 2020 needed to come together in one comprehensive training. Initially the training was intended to be given on site, but because of corona it needed to be adapted to an online setting. With no landlines in South Sudan internet stability is a challenge. We therefore made a series of short instruction video’s and sent them in low resolution before the training, along with a PowerPoint presentation guiding the community counselors through the program Build your own buddy. Meticulous preparation was also done with the local coordinator of Help a Child who could operate as co-trainer and communicate with us through WhatsApp. Video’s of example roleplay assignments were sent back to us for approval and discussion.

Six community counsellors and a coordinator were first trained in November last year by Arq International to learn the basics of mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS). In January 2021 the training Build your own buddy was delivered as a five-day online training through MS Teams, video’s and WhatsApp by TNO (Jacqueline Stam, Remy Vink, Ilona Wildeman - two trainers a day). The community counselors and coordinator stayed at a hotel with reasonable internet connection in the town of Wau where they could come together with enough social distance for the online training. The training was received very well and appreciated highly. The counselors are now ready to deliver the program to children and parents in their communities.

Piloting the program Build your own buddy

From this point the six community counsellors working in three communities around Wau will be delivering the prototype program Build your own buddy in a first pilot round. TNO will monitor and evaluate this through the community counselors and indirectly in focus group-discussions with parents and children. During the training community counselors received instruction on monitoring and evaluation. This will generate lessons learned to optimize the program, which subsequently will be piloted and monitored a second and third time. By the end of 2021 Build your own buddy will be finalized and will be ready for further implementation. The project-team is looking forward to the first results.

This TNO project supports the following sustainable development goal


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Drs. Remy Vink

  • child abuse
  • child neglect
  • child maltreatment
  • domestic violence
  • family violence

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