Volunteer for mental health in N. Africa

Friends, family and community members,

I am so excited to announce that I will be moving to Morocco for three months (November through January) to volunteer in a mental health clinic.

For the last two years, I have been working in school-based healthcare with “at-risk” youth through The Health Center in Walla Walla (www.thehealthcenterww.org). I’ve learned a great deal about the effects of trauma on mental health, and the incredibly resilient students I have come to know have inspired me to seek further opportunities in children’s public health.

I have been accepted into a volunteer program, sponsored by UBELONG (www.ubelong.org), where I will be assisting in the psychiatric unit at Hospital Razi in Sale, Morocco. This is a highly respected psychiatric unit that receives direct funding from the monarchy. Patients come from a variety of backgrounds and many include children who are recovering from traumatic experiences like abuse and drug addiction. My role will be to assist the psychiatrists with group therapy, build relationships with patients, lead public health education workshops, spread awareness about the need for mental health care and help with administrative tasks, as the need arises. I hope this opportunity will provide a positive mental health experience for individuals and families I serve, help advocacy efforts for better public health in developing countries and serve as a springboard for a future career in psychology or philanthropy.

^"Hearbeats" - a health education program I put on at Blue Ridge Elementary

Why UBELONG? Why mental health?
I selected UBELONG for this project because of its bottom-up approach to volunteerism. Their philosophy emphasizes working with local organizations and community leaders because they are in the best position to identify local needs or whether an international volunteer would, in fact, be beneficial to the community.

For instance, Morocco’s Minister of Health announced in 2012 that mental health care would be a priority under Morocco’s 2[phone redacted] National Health Action Plan. Currently, there are about 300 psychologists working in Morocco (a ratio of one psychologist per 100,000 people). Yet, mental health disorders represent the second leading cause of morbidity and mortality in developing countries (after non-communicable diseases). Despite major progress in identifying the need for mental health services, much remains to be done notably to bolster child and adolescent psychiatry.

My budget for the project includes:
Travel expenses (flight, train, etc.): $1200+
Room and board: $24/day x 85 days = $2040
Est. in-country expenses (taxi/bus to work, lunch, etc.): $5/day x 85 days = $425
Program fee: $200
Traveler’s medical insurance: $199
Optional Arabic language course: n/a
Grand total: $4064

How can you help?
I have already made arrangements for my travel, but I am asking for any help you can offer to reduce my main in-country expense of $2040 (room and board). Five or ten dollars will make a huge difference to me. Twenty-five dollars will put me up for a night!

Don’t hesitate to contact me with any travel advice or for more specific information about my project and the need for mental health services in Morocco. You can also follow my blog (in progress).

Huge thank you and lots of love!
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Tessa Matson 
Walla Walla, WA
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