My mission since I was a little child has been to protect the vulnerable, be it animals or persons. I always searched for a common place where both can coexist, develop, and live in peace.
My training in social psychology and humanistic psychotherapy has been my framework of knowledge to develop my professional skills in Africa. They fed my passion for biodiversity, conservation, and human well-being.
Animals & People always the center of my life purpose.
I studied Social Psychology at the Complutense University of Madrid-Spain. I did my psychology studies practicum in Ethology with chimpanzees' anxiety at the Madrid Zoo.
Chimpanzees captured my interest and in 2003 I volunteered in Ape Action Africa (AAA) in Cameroon (Africa) as a Volunteer to work with chimpanzees. There I had my first AWE. I grasped the bigger picture of what biodiversity conservation is. I realized what the illegal traffic of endangered species and bushmeat trade was doing to our world. Then, my life took on meaning! I wanted to be part of the solution to these animals' suffering.
I completed my psychology degree while also starting my journey in environmental sciences. I researched on my own as well as took short courses. I also Volunteered at a Veterinary Exotic Animal Clinic; at the primate rescue center of RAINFER - Fundación Chimpatia , and at AAP Foundation as Assistant Director for the "Primadomus Project".
Passionate to jump at whichever opportunity allows me to continue my mission, I started working as an expatriate as a cooperation development technician. I went to Kenya to work in a Community Conservation Program to protect the sacred Masai forest of "Naimina Enkiyio". I was also employed in Uganda with a gorilla conservation organization “Conservation Through Public Health”. Then I traveled to Senegal to conduct a rural community development project.
Worked for a couple of months in Sierra Leone in the private sector. Then participated in a crisis assessment project in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake; went on a field visit to Mexico to assess the education services in the rural and isolated communities, and many other short missions.
All along I continued my training in psychotherapy, while working, at a training and therapy center: Victoria Cadarso Team. I was learning the newest trauma techniques to help people rise from the ashes like a PHOENIX.
In 2006 I did post-graduate training in "Wildlife and Natural Areas Management" at Cádiz University, following which I started my journey in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
COOPERA NGO helped me make my childhood dream come true. I designed a Community Conservation Program called "Mazingila" in South Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo for which I achieved funding in 2007. I went to live there and worked tirelessly on different projects while taking short breaks abroad in between.
South Kivu is known for its repeating wars while we must highlight its spectacular biodiversity and resilient communities. Here, together with a highly motivated team and their involvement in this community conservation program, we have developed innovative formulas to unite and meet both the needs of animals and humans.
Since then, I have designed and managed more than 50 projects on psychosocial support and mental health, improvement of social services, socio-economic development of rural communities, and environmental protection.
I genuinely love working with communities in DRC. Mostly, I adore working with women and children who have suffered traumatic life events in their lives in rural areas. I must provide them with strategies to overcome their traumas and construct their resilience. However, it is not always possible to rise from the ashes. Other times they become trapped in the nightmare of trauma that engulfs them, drowning them deeper and deeper. Unfortunately, there are not enough mental health services, so they do not know where they can go for help.
I realized there was an urgent need to promote mental health services at the DRC. Together with Coopera NGO and the local partner COOPERA CONGO (COCO) we decided to do something about it.
The breaking point was in 2014 when an atrocious phenomenon started in Kavumu, a village 7km away from Lwiro, my town. Little girls under 10 years old were abducted from their homes during the night and reappeared the next morning far away and brutally raped. I devoted myself to these inhumanely raped children for 4 years in different areas of DRC.
I was deeply affected by the situation and wanted to provide them with the best care and support possible. So I went back to Spain to complete more advanced studies in psychotherapy and trauma treatment. I completed a Master's degree in Experiential Humanistic Psychotherapy & Emotion Focused Psychotherapy at the Universidad Pontificia de Comillas de Madrid.
Simultaneously I trained in different Stress and Trauma techniques such as the "Emotional Freedom Technique" (EFT); Focusing, Body-based psychotherapies, Eye Movement Integration (EMI); basics of Gestalt therapy; Bioenergetic amongst others. I also became a certified facilitator of "Tension and Trauma Release Exercises" (TRE). The training was completed with a specialized course on "Diseases on the Freeze (medical problems), Stress and Trauma in Children and Youth, and a Special Section on working with Sexual Abuse and Victims of Gender Violence" with Melanie Salmon, at the Spanish TRE Association in Barcelona.
Later on, I continued studying at the same time working. In addition, I also took a certificate course in "Dog Assisted Therapy Technician" at EDUCAN in Madrid, and in the last few years, I have been fascinated by Positive Psychology. Later I discover and studied to be a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner at Adala Salud.
"While on the field, I am always taking online from experts in trauma and psychotherapy.
Love of Learning is one of my character strengths"
On the road
mental health and psychosocial
support in R.D. CONGO
From 2014 until today, I have focused primarily on healing the traumas of Congolese Children, Women, Child Soldiers, and Eco-guards helping them rise from the ashes like a Phoenix and helping them to construct their resilience.
In 2015, I created a group therapy model for minors victims of sexual violence. The therapy model consists of 15 sessions of two hours a week, lasting 4 months, and it was aimed at different age groups (3-6 years; 7-12 years; 13-18 years). Each session follows a clear objective and has a standard structure with specific group dynamics. To evaluate the therapy's effectiveness, we measured the traumatic symptoms before and after the 15 sessions. Results were better than expected, as 80% of the girls dramatically reduced traumatic symptoms.
I trained 34 community agents in the Kabare and Kalehe territories to carry out the therapy model in the local language. The training consists of 40 hours of theory and 50 hours of practice. The learning model is "learning by doing". The psychological support agents experience the dynamics and therapeutic games that they will later put into practice. I teach the training accompanied by an Educational Psychologist who helps me with the dialects of each town.
The therapeutic dynamics have been carefully designed to foster group cohesion, self-esteem, negative emotion management, and trauma release, and stimulate a sense of hope for the future. All children who received psychological therapy had medical attention in the rural area where they lived and were schooled to complete the entire primary or secondary cycle.
The holistic psychological intervention was completed by creating "Root & Shoots Nature Clubs". The objective is to give them a purpose in their lives according to their age. They all visited the Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Center.
Until 2019, I have directed 4 therapy groups with children between 3 and 12 years and 13 therapy groups of children between 12 and 17 years. In total, 301 girls have received psychological care with my therapy model. We have also performed individual therapy with Congolese clinical psychologists on 26 highly traumatized young girls. 327 minors victims of sexual violence have received psychological support.
In 2016, I adapted the group therapy model designed for minors victims of sexual violence to 50 child soldiers in Bunyakiri. Besides, they were also schooled for a whole cycle. They participated in "Root & Shoots Nature Clubs" and visited the Lwiro Primate Rehabilitation Center.
In October 2016, I designed the "Training Manual on Childhood Psychological Trauma and Possible Interventions in Schools". Pascal Cibambo trained the 35 school directors at Kalehe Territory, where our "Child Soldiers" and "sexual victims" were studying. Our aim was to change teachers' perceptions about the attitudes of children with trauma.
"This workshop has great importance in a conflict context, where both teachers and students
are survivors of traumatic events"
In July 2017, I conducted the 16-hour workshop called "I AM, I CAN", with 90 women from the ECOLO-Femmes/Kabare Platform. We nourished women's self-esteem, explored their strengths, and helped them move ahead into the future. Self-application techniques were given to release negative emotions, such as the "Emotional Freedom Technique."
In March 2018, I conducted the first Gestalt Therapy Training for Children with 10 Congolese clinical psychologists. Among the techniques learned was the use of the sandbox. Thanks to the training, psychologists can now exercise specialized psychotherapy to treat children with trauma.
In September 2018, we conducted the "Tension and Trauma Release Exercises" (TRE) therapy with mothers and daughters who have been victims of sexual violence. Monica Tarres, President of the TRE Association in Spain accompanied the group. TRE is a body therapy for emotional release, in which the group has excellent physical and emotional benefits. We were aiming to strengthen the mother-daughter connection but also release some of their internal tension. The workshop was a great success and the whole group had an intense emotional discharge that caused them great joy.
In 2019 I created three Therapy Support Spaces for the ECOLO-Femmes/Kabare Platform to assess and care for 216 women. Women are victims of gender violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and even cultural violence.
The Trauma & Resilience Trainings
In 2018, while on a spiritual retreat in Thailand, the eco guards' situation in the national parks troubled me. They needed to improve their psychological fitness to cope with their high-risk job's harsh conditions. They also needed help to improve their mental toughness and improve their job performance. This gave birth to the "Strong Balanced Rangers: Resilience Training for Environmental Guardians".
Visiting the "Southern African Wildlife College" to discuss about the importance of resilience training for rangers, I first realized its applicability to rural communities, especially around the National Parks. It is vital for managing conservation landscapes to create respect, inclusivity, and sustainable livelihoods for the neighboring communities. Targeting the risk mitigation strategies in communities, we need to promote individuals' mental health to reach their full potential as humans. Only then will they commit to a greater cause, such as society's well-being and biodiversity protection. “Strong Balanced Communities: Resilience Training for all" was born.
The last resilience training arose from sharing the day-to-day with the NGOs' emergency personnel that provide humanitarian support in conflict situations or natural disasters. The stress to which they are subjected, sometimes for long periods, reduces their work performance. In some cases, they end up emotionally depleted, Burnout-Syndrom. I felt that they also needed to rise from the ashes like the phoenix, and this gave birth to the "Strong Balanced Organizations: Resilience Training for staff members".