Rosemary, lay health worker at Budiriro Polyclinic in the southwestern area of Harare

The Friendship Bench

Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe is witnessing the mental scars caused by years of deprivation and struggle. With the new president Emmerson Mnangagwa in power, the dictator is gone – but the machinery of repression is said to be still alive. And in the country of over 16 million there are only 12 psychiatrists practising.
The Friendship Bench project is an evidence-based intervention and therapy developed in Zimbabwe to bridge this mental health treatment gap. Its mission is to enhance mental well-being and improve quality of life through the use of problem solving therapy delivered by trained lay woman health workers, most of them experienced grandmothers. It focuses on people who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
In the local Shona language there is a word for the underlying practice of helping each other: ›Kubatana‹. It means unity, the state of being one; oneness.
The programme helped over 30,000 people there. The method has been empirically vetted and has been expanded to countries beyond, including the US.

Harare, Zimbabwe

Text by Andrea Jeska

Brigitte magazine 2019

Lay health worker Yurita Gurure receiving a young female beneficiary on the bench

Ewenia, one of the beneficiaries. Many of them suffer from ›Kfungisisa‹, a Shona word for depression, as a consequence of HIV-infections, drug abuse and mental disorders

Martha, lay health worker

Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) headquarter in Harare, covered by a remaining poster from the election campaign featuring Emmerson Mnangagwa, now ruling President of Zimbabwe. He followed his predecessor Robert Mugabe, who dominated Zimbabwe's politics for nearly four decades.

Nelson M., an HIV-infection, an apoplectic stroke, depression and suicidal tendencies caused an inability to work as a cab driver; poverty followed...

...as a beneficiary of the Friendship Bench mental health program he has found a home within the group and new hope to face his situation: ›Nobody here is looking down on me‹, he says.

Beneficiaries come to find support in problem solving therapies delivered by trained lay woman health workers

Emmerson Mnangagwa election poster, downtown Harare

Ewenia, beneficiary, lost her brother, lost her job, after divorcing her kids live with her ex’s parents; at a moment in her live she just wanted to die, but then ›here in the project I found new mothers, new sisters, new brothers and new fathers‹, she sais, ›now I can put some mascara and feel myself again, be part of the world again‹.

Nelson at a ›Kubatana Tose‹, which means joining hands together in a circle, a support group for Friendship Bench beneficiaries where they meet and share their experiences in sessions, maintaining highest levels of confidentiality

Esther T. expressing herself during the support group session

Lay health worker Yurita Gurure receiving a beneficiary on the bench

Lay health worker Violet Dune during a therapy dialogue with a young mother

Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) headquarter in Harare, covered by a remaining poster from the election campaign featuring Emmerson Mnangagwa, now ruling President of Zimbabwe

Mashrita, beneficiary

Charity, beneficiary

Therapy group session at Budiriro Polyclinic, southwestern Harare

Yurita Gurure, lay health worker

Emmerson Mnangagwa election poster, downtown Harare