Grounding protection in the local context

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Child protection efforts must be shaped according to the unique challenges and opportunities of specific contexts. Eastern Europe provides many examples of how contextual realities can both facilitate and hinder the process of accompanying partners in implementing their own child protection policies. In Eastern Europe, the history of communism and socialism has left a legacy of legal frameworks, local regulations and social institutions which govern child protection policies and practices. In this context, one would imagine that these laws and institutions should facilitate the quick and simple adoption of child protection initiatives; however, this very history of imperialism complicates these efforts due community distrust of authorities and top-down policies. A history of authoritarian governance requires MCC to encourage community-driven processes for the adoption of child protection policies.

Most of the places MCC works in Eastern Europe have been the borderlands—areas conquered, claimed and held by many vast foreign empires. These empires have imported and enforced laws and regulations without fully incorporating them into the local culture, traditions or norms. As a result, the peoples of Eastern Europe can view cooperating with the ruling authority as a betrayal to one’s family, neighbors and broader community.

Another challenge is a relatively narrow understanding of protection: many authorities see protection as simply taking children out of harm’s way, without considering the value of prevention, education or sensitization. This may be partly due to lack of knowledge: for example, government departments of social work and police may not know about different types of abuse, especially emotional and psychological abuse. Another factor is simply a lack of resources in the face of many pressing social problems.

Finally, many places in Eastern Europe are dealing with the relatively new transition from a socialist and communist past. This new reality has stripped the well-ordered social organization of the past and left room for corruption, exploitation, unemployment and the erosion of social services and stability. As a result, apathy and conflict have increased. In light of these challenges, MCC East Europe has been conscious of not imposing our agenda from the outside, by allowing for flexibility and grace. At the same time, MCC has also been clear that child protection is a priority that we expect our partners to pursue.

Working at child protection with partners begins with a series of conversations that take into account different norms and values and different understandings about how those values can be expressed. For example, one common norm in Eastern Europe is that corporal punishment is an appropriate and expected way to discipline children. Some MCC partners are connected to churches that interpret Proverbs 13:24—“Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them” (NRSV)—to reinforce the idea that corporal punishment is required.

While some partners in the region support the use of corporal punishment within certain guidelines, others denounce this form of discipline. The partners who explicitly avoid it have procedures in place for selecting staff, clear guidelines of defining acceptable and inappropriate behavior and have instituted relevant training for staff. These partners emphasize how important it was for them to generate their own procedures and guidelines
and caution that standards imposed from outside funders would not be successful in sensitizing people to make a change.

Keeping in mind sensitivity to the local context, there are two possible, though non-exclusive, ways MCC’s partners can participate in effecting social change to establish meaningful protections within their societies. The first way is to integrate with strong local campaigns that include widespread sensitization involving training for police, social workers,teachers, clergy, politicians, parents and children about their role and
responsibilities in this system. This model builds upon work done over the past decades in North America. It is not something one person or small group alone can fully implement, but there are some indications that Ukraine may be starting to engage in this sort of process with some assistance from the United Nations.

Another possible approach builds upon the work done by some of MCC’s peacebuilding partners, who work subversively to provoke social change when public leaders and society at large are not already on board. These partners work on empowering individuals to be engaged citizens who question social problems of nationalism and ethnic division. A similar approach could also be used to increase protections for children, by working with adults and children to explore their values and find ways of interacting in more peaceful ways. This model sees protection not as avoidance of abuse but as building up individuals and communities: not as policing laws, but as empowering strong local people. This model runs counter to the authoritarian past in which a population’s role was to wait for solutions to come down from the top. It is a challenging model, but is also arguably an approach that leads to longer-term, more lasting solutions.

Krystan Pawlikowski is co-representative for MCC East Europe.

School-based, village-oriented child protection

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

The mass economic migration from rural to urban areas in Cambodia requires urgent action on child protection policies in rural schools. Through their practice and outreach, rural schools can also play a critical role in facilitating broader community-wide efforts to protect children.

A variety of push-and-pull factors continue to catalyze widespread migration from Cambodia’s poorest rural provinces, affecting over one-quarter of the country’s population, or approximately 3.5 million people (Hing, Lun, et al, 2). A large portion of these migrants come from rural Prey Veng province, where MCC supports a number of
education programs. Villagers in one district estimate that 70% of the local workforce has headed to the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, or to Thailand for higher-wage, manual labor jobs. Moreover, approximately 20% of these children are being raised by elderly family members (Zimmer and Van Natta, 21). The resulting trend, where migratory parents “leave behind” children under 18, heightens children’s vulnerability, as villages
are stripped of the very adults that hold the community together.

When MCC first began conversations about child protection with twopartner schools in the district, MCC’s assumption was that the policies would govern school activities carried out on school grounds, with the design, input and monitoring performed by school staff. However, when the first facilitation meeting was proposed to school principals, both
suggested inviting anyone interested from the community to the first meeting. The school administration’s assumption was that everyone would have a stake in child protection policies and an interest in children’s welfare—even if the policies would technically only be for the schools.

Approximately 10% of each village was in attendance at the first meetings. School committee members and village chiefs attended, along with students’ aunts, uncles and grandparents, but in line with demographic trends, very few parents were in attendance. Most attendees came with young children—magnifying the point that they are the only adults left to provide supervision. When prompted to discuss child safety concerns, these
guardians expressed a number of anxieties, including transporting children to distant clinics when sick, lack of supervision when commuting to school and difficulty following-up with school lessons and homework.

The dialogue made it clear that a reliable child protection policy, one derived from and carried out by the entirety of the child-supervising stakeholders in the village, would be the only effective means of ensuring that children were adequately protected. But was such a community-wide effort possible? At a basic policy level, MCC is focused on ensuring that its partner schools have child protection policies and procedures in place. Yet, as these community meetings made clear, a child protection strategy limited solely to school grounds falls short of community hopes for ensuring children’s safety. In the wake of these community meetings, MCC is working with these village schools in developing child protection strategies with rules, regulations and preventative measures applicable
to all persons and activities on school premises, while also crafting child welfare reporting procedures that would include a mandate to inform and urge action from community stakeholders.

It will take time to bring this school-based, village-oriented child protection policy into reality, as questions remain about where exactly Cambodian village schools start and end. The fluidity of the schools’ jurisdiction cannot be overstated, and is exacerbated by the presence of snack vendors, villagers’ grazing cows and leased-out rice fields all within
the perimeter of the school grounds.

Child protection efforts in the village are moving forward in order to assist parents who have migrated to find work. By showing up en masse to discuss child protection concerns, extended family networks in the village have made it clear they want support in reducing the risks faced by the villages’ children and youth. The push to develop school-based child protection policies has sparked a broader conversation about how to ensure children’s well-being throughout the community.

Vincent Stange is education program facilitator for MCC in Cambodia.

Learn more:

Hing, Vutha, Lun, Pide and Phann, Dalis. The Impacts of Adult Migration on Children’s
Well-being: The Case of Cambodia. Phnom Penh: Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI), 2014. Available at:

Zimmer, Zachary and Van Natta, Meredith. Migration and Left-Behind Households in
Rural Cambodia: Structure and Socioeconomic Conditions. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: UNFPA and National Institute of Statistics, 2015. Available at:

Derks, Annuska. Khmer Women on the Move: Exploring Work and Life in Urban Cambodia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008.


Whole-school confrontation of child sexual abuse in Kenya

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

As many as 30% of Kenyan children have experienced sexual abuse, much of it in school (Violence against Children in Kenya). Too often, victims are blamed while perpetrators go free. Confronting this culture of impunity requires mobilization of the whole school community. One Kenyan primary school succeeded in engaging broad stakeholder collaboration to address a pattern of sexual abuse. In response, the school extended its
child protection network and improved school governance.

Initially, the head teacher was isolated in his attempts to address the situation. After receiving complaints about the sexual abuse of girls by three new teachers, he investigated and reported the cases to his administrative superior and the school’s board of management. They took no action. Family members and police were suborned by the
offending teachers, who also intimidated another colleague involved in the investigations. One abused girl was transferred to a distant school by her family with financial support from an accused teacher. Another girl’s mother asked the school to drop the investigation after the accused teacher persuaded her it would only “stress” her daughter during exams. A third girl, who with her mother’s support had rejected the teachers’ advances, was repeatedly told in class that she and her mother were prostitutes. Other children reported bringing money or drugs to the same teachers to avoid beatings. Letters suspending them were countermanded by the school’s administrator. When the head teacher brought their cases to the board of management, the chair determined they were misbehaving to gain money and influence. Afraid of losing teachers, the board decided to appease them. The board duly voted to increase the teachers’ salaries and appointed them to leadership positions.

Blocked at every level, the head teacher was at a loss until an MCC worker witnessed a girl flee the school office after a beating. Dissatisfied with the responses of the administrator and chair of the board, she approached the head teacher. He summarized the situation of sexual abuse and violence. Recognizing that the problem required whole-community intervention, the MCC worker urged the head teacher to call parents and church and board
members to meet with school leadership that afternoon. (The meeting was stormed by armed bandits who were never apprehended.) She also informed her MCC supervisors.

The next day, the MCC Kenya Representative and a member of its advisory board met with church authorities. The pastor of the school’s founding church then called together school leadership and asked for the immediate dismissal of the offending teachers. He led a restructuring of the board and a review of its policy documents. The head teacher advertised for new teachers and conducted background checks on qualified applicants. After they were hired by the new board, the whole staff reviewed school practices of restorative discipline and active nonviolence. A parents’ meeting was held to explain the firing of the teachers, which met with strong approval.

Some of the abused girls were no longer in the school. The head teacher coordinated support for a remaining girl who was found pregnant, including medical care and family counseling so the girl could stay in school. Teachers and pupils were counseled to treat her like any other student and protect her from ridicule. She sat for the school-leaving exam at the end of the year and won a place in secondary school.

With the new board’s support, the head teacher contacted the government’s local Children’s Officer. She began visiting the school once a week to counsel teachers and students on child protection. She also brought in local organizations to conduct programs on children’s rights and safety. Teachers and parents were also trained to discuss sexuality with children. A locked concern box was installed and opened regularly by a team of teachers, resulting in early detection of problems and a sense of being heard. In developing its new three-year plan, the school set a goal of “Strong, whole-community school leadership [that] collaborates to protect children from harm.”

Through engagement with senior leadership and conveying a sense of urgency, MCC played an important role in confronting a pattern of abuse. But the wisdom and will to transform the situation came from within the community. The school has since developed stronger internal communication and effective collaboration with local child protection
agencies. Greater trust has led to the creation of a written financial policy and representatives from the whole community are involved in designing the school’s child protection policy. Successfully confronting sexual abuse fostered this new sense of ownership and teamwork. Now that the school operates as a whole community, it can act more effectively to protect its children.

Benard Okumu is head teacher at an MCC partner school in Kenya. Jodi Mikalachki is education coordinator and advisor for MCC in Kenya.

Learn more:

Kenya: A Community-Based Approach to School Development. Aga Khan Development Network. 2015.

“A Whole-School Approach.” Kids Matter.

Ruto, Sarah Jerop. “Sexual Abuse of School Age Children: Evidence from Kenya.” Journal
of International Cooperation in Education 12 (2009): 177-192.

Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). Sex Abuse in Kenyan Schools. 2011.

Violence against Children in Kenya: Findings from a 2010 National Survey. Summary
Report on the Prevalence of Sexual, Physical and Emotional Violence, Context of Sexual
Violence, and Health and Behavioral Consequences of Violence Experienced in Childhood. Nairobi, Kenya:United Nations Children’s Fund Kenya Country Office, Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 2012.

Protecting children within faith communities

[Individual articles from the Summer 2016 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Humans need safety. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety is even more important than our needs for belonging, esteem and self actualization and second only to our most basic physical needs (i.e. food, water, shelter). Just as children feel safe during thunderstorms when caring parents are nearby, so children should feel safe at church, surrounded by adults who care about them, value them and listen to them. Leaders want
their organizations to be safe. At a most basic level, this includes following codes and policies, but safety is not always straightforward. Safety is subjective. Depending on personal characteristics like age, gender and life experiences, what feels safe for one person may not feel safe for another.

When people feel unsafe they often feel powerless. They may withdraw, be paralyzed or fight back. Conversely, when people feel safe they can be curious, learn and grow—attributes that we especially want to foster in our children and youth. Pastors, teachers and leaders in churches and other faith communities need to invest time and resources into making children and youth feel safe. It takes intentionality to ensure basic child-proofing for young children, relational safety for school-age children (i.e. bullying
prevention) and child abuse prevention for children and youth of all ages.

Many faith community members would like to think that child abuse does not happen and that even if it does, it certainly does not happen here. They may be blinded by the feeling of “family” in the community. However, statistics show that nearly all abused children were abused by someone they knew, quite often a parent. So the excuse that “churches are like families” and therefore we do not need to follow child protection practices does not hold up. Child abuse most often occurs within relationships. In fact, over 90% of victims know their offenders. An offender may be a parent, sibling, cousin, teacher or neighbor. While we do not want to be suspicious of everyone, we do need to keep our eyes and hearts open to all the ways that children and youth may be vulnerable.

Dove’s Nest’s offers faith communities across North America training, strategies and resources for writing, adopting and implementing child protection policies. A culture of child protection includes many components. Based on age and role, training is required on the types, risks and effects of abuse and neglect. Organizations need to look at their facilities and consider how to keep children and youth safe, e.g., windows in doors, first aid kits, safe storage of sharp objects and chemicals. Faith communities need to establish procedures to prevent opportunities for two people to be alone, especially when one of those persons is older and in a position of authority. Churches need concrete plans for responding to concerns about possible abuse. Everyone working with children should be
trained on how to report child abuse to local authorities.

Dove’s Nest recommends that churches run background checks on all personnel who work with children and youth. Church leaders certainly do not want to invite someone to work with their children and youth and then find out too late that if they had only run a background check, they could have prevented a child from being hurt. While legal background checks are important, they are not perfect (and not available everywhere). So it is also important to screen all staff and volunteers in other ways. A formal or informal reference check with previous churches or employers can tell a lot about individuals, especially if they had interactions with children and youth in those places. Those doing the screening can ask former churches or employers about what roles the persons being screened had with children and youth; how children, youth and families responded to them; and under what circumstances they left. Like the background check, such measures are not enough to guarantee safety, but they are important pieces to the overall plan.

Resistance to child protection practices is common, especially when it comes to background checks. Education goes a long way in helping faith community members understand why these practices are important. It can be helpful to explain that church leaders cannot start deciding who they will and will not screen based on subjective criteria or stereotypes. Everyone needs to be screened. Another useful approach is to liken child protection practices to seat belts in cars—they were not used 40 years ago, but now they are known to save lives.

Once hired, it is important to keep a watchful eye over how staff and volunteers interact with children. Are they effective in building healthy relationships with children? Do they have healthy adult relationships to meet their own needs? Do they willingly follow child protection guidelines? Above all, churches should prioritize listening to children and their parents. Churches need to take any concerns about blurred boundaries or what may look like grooming behaviors very seriously.

Dove’s Nest frequently consults with churches on how to respond to possible abuse and how to balance protection and inclusion when someone is present who has or may have offended in the past. Take, for example, a recent account from a Mennonite pastor: A new attendee to a church had an interaction with two elementary school-age girls that raised yellow flags. He approached them and asked to shake hands. One of the girls refused, saying that he was a stranger. He replied that he was not a stranger, but a member of their church. Then he reached out and tickled her. This violated the church’s child protection policy, which states that children should not be touched without their expressed permission and that touch with children should be handled with care.

The pastor later learned the man has a history of sexual misconduct with an adult, but no legal record of misconduct with children. The pastor took this seriously and met with the man to tell him what he learned about his past, and asked him to sign a formal covenant with the church, stating that he will not have physical contact with children, will abide by the child protection policy and will not be alone with children in the congregation. It also included the provision that the pastor would inform the parents of elementary school children in the congregation about the covenant in a parents’ meeting. The man signed it and has been attending—although not regularly. When he attends, he respects the boundaries, the pastor said.

Once churches have a child protection policy in place, they need to implement and follow it, and follow it consistently. Dove’s Nest offers a checklist of things to consider when writing a child protection policy, along with many concrete examples ( The organization also offers Circle of Grace, a Christian safe environment curriculum for preschool through high school students, along with trainings on the curriculum. My book, Let the Children Come: Preparing Faith Communities to Face Child Abuse and Neglect (Herald Press, 2010), is also useful for individual or group study. Another helpful book for individuals and churches looking to deepen their understanding of abuse in faith communities is Carolyn Holderread Heggen’s Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches (Herald Press, 1993). Churches can and must surround our children and youth with safe environments and relationships and offer them the respect, love, justice and dignity they deserve as children of God. Efforts at child protection will reap a harvest of joy, wholeness and health for many years and generations
to come.

Jeanette Harder is board president and co-founder of Dove’s Nest and professor at the Grace Abbott School of Social Work, University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Learn more:

Dove’s Nest:

Circle of Grace (2013). The Archdiocese of Omaha, Omaha, NE. Retrieved from

Let the Children Come: Preparing Faith Communities to End Child Abuse and

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

Harder, Jeanette. Let the Children Come: Preparing Faith Communities to End Child
Abuse and Neglect. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2010.

Harder, Jeanette and Haynie, Kristina. “Child Protection Practices in Mennonite Church
USA Congregations.” Journal of Social Service Research 38(2012): 248-259.

Holderread Heggen, Carolyn. Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1993; reprinted Eugene, OR:Wipf & Stock, 2006.

O’Neill, Erin Olsen; Huckins, Stephanie; Gabel, Jodi; and Harder, Jeanette. “Prevention
of Child Abuse and Neglect through Church and Social Service Collaboration.” Social
Work & Christianity. 37: 381–406.

Child protection (Summer 2016)

[Individual articles from this issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full Summer 2016 issue can be found on MCC’s website.]

Child protection is defined by UNICEF as preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse against children. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed 25 years ago and ratified by more countries than any other human rights treaty in history (all countries except Somalia and the United States), provides a common legal and ethical international framework for protecting children.

In 2013, MCC’s boards joined this international movement by approving a protection of children and youth policy framework, which aims to ensure the safety of all children and youth who interact with MCC program. In addition to giving directives for MCC’s own child protection policy, the framework calls for all partner organizations who implement MCC-supported projects with direct participants under the age of 18 to develop their own policies and procedures to ensure that children and youth are safe from abuse while participating in partner initiatives. MCC assumes that partner organizations share the goal of protecting children, even if they do not yet have formal child protection policies and procedures in place. MCC is committed to supporting partners as they formalize such policies and procedures, while recognizing that robust child protection is a long-term process that engages communities and is grounded in specific contexts.

Recent research into the long-term effects of childhood abuse has only increased the urgency for child protection work. One of the most significant findings is the long-term effects of child abuse on neurological development. Child abuse at a young age impairs brain development, with lasting implications, including increased likelihood of abusive behavior later in life, criminal activities, substance abuse and negative health outcomes, including heart disease, liver disease, diabetes and depression. These individual effects translate into long-term societal costs related to physical and mental health care, domestic violence, criminal activity and strain on education systems.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in collaboration with Kaiser Permanente on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) represents one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and later-life health and well-being. A TED-talk by Nadine Burke Harris powerfully presents these findings and makes a moving, impassioned plea to confront childhood trauma and to support prevention and treatment efforts. The ACE study analyzes the impact of childhood abuse and other adverse childhood experiences which is summarized in the graphic below.

Child protection graphic

Many factors—at individual, family and community levels—increase the risk of child abuse. At the same time, protective factors can buffer children from abuse. Strengthening protective factors is just as important as reducing risk factors. The CDC identifies one potential protective factor as “communities that take responsibility for preventing abuse.” MCC’s current focus on working with partners to develop child protection policies is aimed at helping communities take this responsibility, with the belief that these efforts can help prevent abuse and can help children who experience abuse to be resilient. This issue of Intersections captures some of the lessons MCC and its partners have learned in this long-term process of ensuring the protection of all children who participate in MCC-supported programs.

Lynn Longenecker is MCC education coordinator.

Learn more:

CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study

TED Talk — Nadine Burke Harris http://www.

Child Abuse and Neglect: Risk and Protective Factors http://www.

UNICEF and Convention on the Rights of the Child

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse
and Neglect

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Risk and Protective Factors for Child Abuse and

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Protective Factors Approaches in Child Welfare


Secondary trauma and responsibility of organizations

The morning that my husband Joel told me he could not leave the compound for fear of getting shot and dying I knew we would not be able to finish our three-year MCC term in South Sudan. Joel and I lived in a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of town where the sounds of drumming in the evening were far more common than gunshots. However, our two years of working as Peace and Justice Coordinators for a Catholic Diocese had exposed us to numerous stories of horror, trauma and struggle. Daily we witnessed the devastating impact that the 22-year civil war had on individuals, families and communities.

During our first months in South Sudan we visited numerous communities to learn about Sudanese perspectives on peace and justice. These visits highlighted for us the unaddressed trauma in every community. The effects of trauma could be observed in high rates of domestic abuse, poor sleeping patterns and hyper-arousal, meaning that angry disputes could quickly turn physically abusive. In order to address this trauma I was trained in basic trauma awareness and positive coping techniques that could be easily understood and passed from one person to another. While in the midst of this work I did not realize the extent to which our job and life in South Sudan, where low-level violence was an everyday reality, were affecting my own husband.

People respond to trauma differently. While our bodies will always go into survival mode during a traumatic event, how we process the event afterwards differs from person to person. It depends on our age, past experiences, level of self-awareness, support systems and knowledge of trauma. The same is true when hearing about traumatic events.

Secondary, or vicarious, trauma can develop when there has been indirect exposure to trauma through a firsthand account or narrative. The symptoms of secondary trauma may include negative changes in a person’s professional conduct, their worldviews, self-capacities and sense of security. Joel’s belief that it was dangerous to leave our home was one of many indicators that made me realize he was suffering from secondary trauma due to the nature of our work and that we could no longer be helpful in our peacebuilding roles.

Many organizations who work with traumatized populations are aware of their responsibilities to the people they work with and their workers. These organizations emphasize self-care for employees to reduce the risk of excess stress and burnout. Self-care, such as quality time with friends and family, rest, exercise and spiritual practices, has also been proven to mitigate the risk of secondary trauma. However, studies have shown that when workers are solely responsible for organizing and prioritizing their own self-care, these practices often fall to the wayside. This could be because workers feel that their suffering is less relevant than the people whom they are working with and therefore do not consider making time for self-care an important aspect of their jobs. Scholars have argued that these findings point to the need for organizations to consider employee self-care as an organizational, rather than individual, responsibility.

Structural changes in work places to create trauma-informed environments means giving priority to worker safety. Research has found that a trauma-informed work place provides organizational, supervisory and peer support, as well as trauma-informed professional development for all staff. Support and awareness throughout the entire system of an organization creates numerous safeguards to spot early signs of secondary trauma, as symptoms can develop rapidly. Trauma-informed professional development provides employees with a framework and common language to voice their experiences and feelings. These measures increase worker satisfaction while decreasing compassion fatigue. This in turn allows workers to provide trauma-informed care to the people for whom they are working. Trauma-informed care increases trauma-informed programming, increases recovery from trauma symptoms and decreases the risk of re-traumatization. Ultimately, a trauma-informed organization will benefit from a trickledown effect for increased success in their programs.

Our experience in South Sudan showed me that I still had much to learn and understand about trauma, organizational leadership and myself. Life is not simple enough to put in place organizational policies that prevent hardship and heartache. MCC had policies to equip us with life in South Sudan’s post-conflict environment. We were given scheduled rest periods out of the country, a food budget to keep us well fed and numerous talks on self-care. I had been trained in trauma awareness. Yet we still found ourselves broken, in various ways, by the work we had come to do, unable to move forward—or, at least, out of the compound. Perhaps this is the most important thing to understand about people, organizations and trauma—we break. By understanding what caused the brokenness we can heal.

Heather Peters and her husband Joel recently welcomed their first child, Rehema. Heather is on maternity leave from her position as Restorative Justice Coordinator for MCC Saskatchewan.