What is it like being a gender-based violence counsellor in the Pacific?

22 June 2022
Image Source    The Pacific Community

“In order to be a gender-based violence counsellor, you need to be dedicated to genuinely helping people,” says Candida Kaious, Program Coordinator for the Weto In Mour (WiM) crisis centre at Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI), in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI).

“You need to be honest and understanding and you need to remember how important confidentiality is”, she says.

Candida is dedicated to her work at the Weto In Mour program, the first centre in RMI providing counselling and support to survivors of violence against women and girls.

Her day-to-day GBV counselling work involves following up on cases with relevant authorities, meeting with her clients, updating the client database and ensuring clients are safe. She also joins the team to conduct community awareness campaigns for the prevention of family violence whilst also educating survivors of violence about how they can access support services.

In the past six-years since joining WiM at WUTMI as a part-time staff, Candida has seen positive growth in both her professional career and in her personal life as a mother, a wife, a daughter, and the eldest sister to her siblings.

“I have changed a lot since joining this work, I have increased my knowledge on prevention work for gender-based violence and domestic violence and my siblings have told me that this work has really changed me in a good way,” she said.

For Candida, understanding the important work and services she offers to her clients is what has kept her committed and passionate about her work as a counsellor.

“I want to stay and continue to do this work because I understand the high number of women that are going through domestic violence compared to the few of us here in the Marshall Islands dedicated to helping those experiencing violence.”

Candida doesn’t shy away from the challenges of providing counselling services to her clients.

The smallness of the community is a common issue for many counsellors working in RMI and other Pacific countries.

“One of the challenges I face as a counsellor is that sometimes we encounter cases where we’re related to either the perpetrator or the clients, we have policies in place that help if we’re in this situation, for example we may pass the case over to another case worker,” she said.

“I am still very dedicated and faithful to this role and job and work, and I understand that it is important to keep the confidentiality in this work.”

Candida’s passion for her job is also credited to the responses received from clients.

“We have a client survey that we do every 12 months. We ask the clients to fill out of the survey to let us know how our services has helped them.”

“Just by reading the responses on this survey, on how we have helped and encouraged them [to] move forward in life has really helped me continue this important work.”

To ensure counselling services continue to be provided and expanded for women and girls in RMI, Candida is continuously encouraging women to be engaged in counselling work.

“If you’re dedicated, honest and you understand confidentiality you will be able to become a counsellor,” she said.

“When I started in WUTMI I had zero skills in counselling but with the trainings, it has helped me build my confidence and knowledge on counselling work.”

This week, Candida is co-facilitating the first Regional Telephone Gender Based Violence (GBV_ Counsellor Skills training developed and delivered by Pacific Women Lead at the Pacific Community (SPC), in collaboration with crisis centre partners in the Pacific.

This regional training, from 20-24 June, focuses on the ’Telephone Counselling for Gender Based Violence (GBV) Survivors: A Pacific Toolkit.’

This is a big step forward for Candida, who just a year ago was a participant attending the first pilot training sessions in 2021, which resulted in the development of the Pacific Toolkit. Candida then took part in the Training of Trainers for the Pacific Toolkit with other senior counsellors, resulting in her promotion to co-facilitator for this week’s regional training – a milestone for her work.

She said the telephone counselling training has helped increase her confidence and knowledge around this work, which is significantly different to providing personal GBV counselling to women who visit the Weto in Mour centre.

“Telephone counselling is very different from face-to-face counselling because you cannot see the situation the caller is in. The training has really increased my skills in delivering this type of counselling and helped increase my safety planning and immediate safety checks [for clients].”

The Regional Training for Telephone GBV Counsellor Skills is being delivered online via zoom to more than 20 counsellors and caseworkers across several Pacific Islands countries including RMI, Chuuk in the Federated State of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.

The training caters to growing demand in enhancing Pacific counsellors’ telephone skills for GBV counselling, given crisis centres’ documented increase in gender-based violence cases attributed to the combined impacts of COVID-19 and other crises in the Pacific.

Telephone counselling for GBV survivors was first introduced to RMI during COVID-19, to ensure remote access to services for women and girl survivors who were unable to visit the crisis centre because of lockdowns or restricted movement rules. The introduction of GBV telephone counselling is a positive outcome of COVID-19.

Looking forward, improved GBV telephone counselling means better preparedness for future crises that may require women’s support and crisis centres to deliver their essential services remotely.

Human Rights and Social Development
Micronesia Regional Office

Marshall Islands