COVID-19 took an unprepared world and left a devastating impact – one we will all feel for a while. Whilst people, regardless of background, class or race are affected alike, it is those poorest that have felt the widening of socio-economic injustices the most.
In the north of Pakistan, in regions like Gilgit-Baltistan, the hardest to reach communities are not only feeling the physical and economic ramifications of the pandemic – but also the psychological. For many, understanding how the pandemic has influenced their mental health is a new notion. The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), with the financial support from the European Union and the Aga Khan Foundation, are alleviating some of these effects by delivering an array of psycho-social training sessions and services as part of a holistic response to COVID-19.
At the heart of this movement are three amazing women who are helping their communities understand the psychological impact that COVID-19 has had and what community members can do to improve their mental health.
Fatima is married with four children: two sons and two daughters. Her husband is a construction worker and all four of her children are of school-going age. Fatima found that at the start of the pandemic, looking for a job during lockdown was near impossible. As the pandemic persisted, Fatima’s family exhausted almost all their savings and daily living became harder.
Fatima explains, “there was always a situation where everyone from the children to their father would get impatient and tend to argue. I tried hard to stay calm and patient, but it was very tough. Due to their idleness, my children started disobeying us – me and my husband. My husband, generally a calm person, would argue back. The situation became very complicated, and I did not know how to deal it.”
“Sometimes you don’t need money. Simply having an understanding of a problem makes it easier to cope with.”
Fatima continues, “then I was approached by my neighbours, and we participated in the session organised by a local support organisation, in which we talked about mental health, and the effects of the pandemic and lockdown on different aspects of life. These sessions made it easier for me to understand the situation and how to deal with it.”
Fatima now champions the training from AKRSP and reinforces the learnings within her community. She says: “although the situation has eased a lot, its bad effects are still there. I understand that it’s at a global scale so it’s effects would be global too. Sometimes you don’t need money. Simply having an understanding of a problem makes it easier to cope with. Thanks to AKRSP for extending this valuable support at such a critical time.”
Saeeda, Shigri Kalan
Saeeda is a social worker who worked as a community resource person (CRP) under AKRSP’s COVID-19 response project. As a CRP, Saeeda was trained on the importance of mental well-being and helped run sessions on the different types of mental health illnesses that can manifest from the pandemic, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and social phobia. Saeeda recognised that this was the first time many members of her community were learning about mental health.
“I feel more equipped to help my community understand the importance of good mental health.”
Saeeda, Shigri Kalan
Since her training, Saeeda has been tending to these issues within her community. Although amulets and charms are usually used to treat such illnesses in her community, using her training, Saeeda educated her neighbours on mental health illnesses. She helped her neighbours who had been unwell and unresponsive to medication, to seek local support services supported by AKRSP to manage their symptoms.
“I am proud to have been able to use my training for good and I want to continue doing so. I feel more equipped to help my community understand the importance of good mental health.”
Atiya is a volunteer who was keen to work with AKRSP. Familiar with AKRSP’s previous emergency and local support organisation work within her community, Atiya attended the ‘psychological impact of COVID-19’ training session and saw the benefits of this straight away.
“People were very scared after the first and second wave of COVID-19. They were less serious about the impact of the disease with the third wave. As the national tally of the disease was getting higher and taking more lives, communities started understanding this new wave was dangerous and this had a mental impact. So, I took it upon myself to get the message across to communities when the AKRSP approached us to organise a session on the impact of COVID-19. Such sessions really helped people out of difficult psychological situations.”
“As the national tally of the disease was getting higher and taking more lives, communities started understanding this new wave was dangerous and this had a mental impact.”
Feeling inspired, Atiya studied the COVID-19 literature provided by AKRSP and started visiting individuals in her community to educate those reluctant to follow safety measures. She has been successfully educating people on the severity of the pandemic, whilst distributing protective equipment to help control the spread of the disease.
Whilst the psychological effects of COVID-19 are not visible, the stresses that come with the pandemic have been vast. Thanks to women like Fatima, Saeeda and Atiya, communities in northern Pakistan are beginning to heal emotionally and mentally. It is because of individuals like these that the Aga Khan Foundation and its partners are able to do our work. We thank them for their formidable contributions.
‘Critical preparedness, readiness and response actions for the coronavirus disease pandemic in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral’ is a project funded by the European Union and the Aga Khan Foundation and implemented by agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.