Qualitative Data Show First Successes of BoB Initiative

Resilient youth and parents
25 January 2022

More than 4.3 million people have been displaced by the conflict in South Sudan. And 63% of them are children. With a grant from the DRA Innovation Fund, TNO’s experts teamed with NGO Help a Child to help kids – and their parents – cope with hardship and trauma with simple stories and play. All tech-free and low cost. After the pilot phase, the first signs of success are clear. And the team is preparing to expand their reach.

Building buddies and foundations

The BoB (Build your Own Buddy) initiative uses scientifically proven methodologies to increase resilience to stress. It provides simple, effective imagery and activities to help children understand and deal with their emotions, and practice coping. With trained local counsellors who lead the well-planned sessions, children get the psychosocial support they need.

'Teaching these children psychosocial resilience at this young age can impact the rest of their lives.'

‘We based BoB on indirect learning and imaginary play and movement. Evidence shows this is the best way to help children absorb and retain information,’ explains Jacqueline Stam, Consultant/Psychologist at TNO and creator of the BoB program.

Qualitative results that speak volumes

A total of 380 children in four different South Sudanese communities participated in BoB pilots. In November 2021, Liesbeth Speelman, Advisor at Help a Child, travelled with Remy Vink, Researcher/Sociologist at TNO, to South Sudan to visit each community and experience the impact first-hand.

'The first thing I noticed is how much the BoB “language” had been incorporated into the communities’ vocabulary,’ Liesbeth says. ‘Both adults and children were using the terminology to describe their moods, needs and levels of stress.’

‘The counsellors were engaged in the materials and focused on the objectives,’ says Remy. ‘And seeing the children laughing, clutching their well-worn copies of the Bob picture books and their self-made buddies was a true indication of the impact.’

Healing parents by empowering children

Adults in the community also expressed their deep desire to see BoB grow. ‘One grandmother said that she’d never spoken about her own traumas until she participated in the program, but that it helped her to finally put them aside,’ Liesbeth reports. ‘Other parents spoke of walking three hours each way to participate, and begged us to bring the program to all communities in the region.’

Jacqueline explains why BoB can be effective for anyone. ‘Trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk tells us that no matter how hard we try to bury our traumas, the body keeps score,’ she explains.

'BoB teaches both kids and adults that it’s ok to have negative feelings, and how to effectively deal with them.'

The structure and predictability of BoB sessions gives every participant some stability in very insecure circumstances, and effectively builds trust and acceptance.’

The BoB programme in South-Sudan

Support for lasting impact

BoB was designed to be tech-free so that it could be implemented anywhere. Now, a new adaptation of BoB will further utilise digital resources when they’re available. ‘We’re now developing a digital, self-guided version of BoB for use in Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries, based on the same principles,’ Remy says.

TNO and Help a Child are evaluating quantitative data that is expected to confirm the program’s success so far. Then, with the right support and funding, the team hopes to continue to bring BoB to more children and parents. ‘With minor adjustments for age and culture, BoB is applicable anywhere in the world,’ Remy explains.

‘It’s important to realise that mental health is as urgent and necessary as food and shelter for traumatised people,’ Liesbeth says. And Remy agrees: ‘As one of the participating parents told me: “Shelters fall down. Crops can fail. But emotional strength can stay with people throughout their lives”.

Want to learn more about how to help BoB grow and impact more children? Contact Remy Vink.

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Resilient youth and parents


We help increase the resilience of parents and their children with divorce problems using the training DivorceATLAS, and with a programme for children.

Digital, self-guided mental health program

24 June 2021
Thaki and TNO aim to digitize ‘Build your own Buddy’, a psychosocial support program for children in high stress settings, to increase their resilience.