As always, we start and end every day with meditation:
During the first part of the trip, Fr. Paul and I led the "social group work" course for 15 current PPCC counselors, 2 PPCC administrative staff, and 2 BPG animators. (See September 4th, 2015 entry for full names of both organizations.) In addition, about 16 past PPCC counselors and BPG animators attended, most of whose positions ended in March when funding for them stopped.
As usual, Fr. Paul and I teach together. I am the subject matter expert and course designer. He translates for language and culture. (The counselors' primary language is Tamil.) A number understand written English; some also speak very limited English.
The workshop was in many ways bittersweet. Even tough they lost their positions, all the former counselors still attended. I found this very inspiring. The counselors here really consider counseling work as a vocation, rather than just a job.
The fact that international funders are leaving Sri Lanka is discouraging, but typical in periods of development. The international community tends to pay more attention to countries during and after wars and disasters.
Originally, PPCC leadership requested this "social group work" course focus on the administrative and practical aspects of starting and running groups for a variety of social problems, like unemployment, widowhood, trauma, etc. We focused on these for the first two days. Here is a partial list of groups counselors thought would be useful here:
All counselors have completed at least one course in group counseling.
With decreased counseling services in the area, groups and group counseling become even more vital to help people in need. The challenge remains that most Sri Lankans feel stigmatized about seeking counseling, let alone group counseling. We discussed ways to design and run groups in a manner that reduces self-consciousness among potential members.
As always, we leave ample time for movement, which can include dance, music, or games mid-day, after lunch. This is often a chance for people to decompress from stress related to what we study. It is also a great way for counselors to connect, that is customary in their culture.
Counselors learn so much through "sharing," i.e. exercises that help them understand and master various concepts and techniques. During such exercises, they act as peer counselors for one another. At the end of day 2, Fr. Paul approached me, and said, "Mike, we need more sharing." Based on past experience with this class, I predicted this. For the final 2 days of the workshop, we had very brief presentations and lots of time in sharing groups. I believe this gave people time to grieve the loss of their positions.
Our final exam for this workshop involved writing up a proposal and plan for a current group each counselor is running or for a new group he or she plans to start. Hopefully this will help counselors to remain active, and serve to protect the capacity for counseling we have worked so hard to build here in Batticaloa over the past 11 years.