IT JUST TAKES ONE: JUSTINE HARDY AND HEALING KASHMIR
When author and journalist Justine Hardy is not publishing a book, or winging her way to some far corner of the globe to do a story, you might find her at home in London teaching yoga or she could be in Boston lecturing at Harvard. She’s one of those people who you never quite know where she will be. But if she has her way these days, you will find her in Kashmir where she has taken it upon herself to heal the people whose lives and souls have been ravaged by the ongoing war that has taken place there for decades.
1. Can you describe for us what your charity, Healing Kashmir, does? What is its mission?
Perhaps now, for the first time, we’re all beginning to really get our heads around how messed up people are by war, conflict, and natural disaster–and I don’t mean the physical wounds. The most lasting damage of war is to the mind. And it doesn’t have to be big war with tanks, bombs and drones, it can be the silent war, within a family. Whether it’s domestic violence or country versus country, it’s the mind wound that takes the longest to heal. Healing Kashmir is a mental trauma programme designed to rehabilitate those who have been psychologically damaged by war and violence. We have created a system in Kashmir that can be replicated anywhere in the world.
2. What inspired you to start this charity? Can you give us a sense of why an organization like yours is so important in Kashmir?
I have been working in Kashmir for more than twenty years. I started there as a young journalist covering the beginning of what some now call ‘Kashmir’s Forgotten War’, a long-standing and complex conflict that has led to two major wars between India and Pakistan, and several nuclear stand-offs—situations that have threatened to affect the rest of the world. When I went as a young journalist I thought that I was going to be the toughest front line gal out there, and that it would be the making of me. But the damage to the people there smashed any idea that I had about front-lining. The ability of the human condition to survive in the face of destruction stunned me, and so, 15 years ago, I started to train as a trauma therapist. The idea of creating a system that could support people psychologically seemed one of the most important steps that could be taken. It has been estimated that around 90% of Kashmir’s population has been psychologically damaged by over 22 years of violence. That is a vast number of people who are only functioning on a partial level. Addressing that seemed a vital foundation stone for rebuilding the society. If we could create a system that worked there, we could take it anywhere.
3.What were the first steps you took in starting Healing Kashmir?
The training was step one. Qualifying to be a conflict trauma therapist, combining both conventional and alternative therapy methods, was about as tricky as herding cats. It really flew in the face of most views being practiced at the time when I started training. This view is changing now, so maybe I was just jumping the gun a bit. This marriage of treatments is now going mainstream – The US Army is using a combination of conventional and alternative therapy as a central part of their PTSD programmes for soldiers returning from Iraq, and now from Afghanistan as well. Once I had trained it was then a question of trying to convince the few psychiatrists in Kashmir that this was a good way forward. Again, it was back to herding cats. Then I found a young psychiatrist who really got the idea, and we started, in a small way, at the Government Psychiatric Hospital in Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir.
4. How has the community responded to Healing Kashmir?
One of the main challenges has been dealing with the stigmas relating to depression, suicide, and all forms of mental health issues in a culture that circulates rumours at high speed, way before the truth’s alarm clock has even gone off. In a conservative society, getting past this has been a big step. One of the ways we did this was to start the first toll-free mental trauma helpline in the region. This means that people can call in, they can take as much time as they need, they do not have to give any personal information, and it’s free. The complex IT side of setting this up was made possible by our dear friend and colleague, Barbara Krieger, a Swiss TV and IT dynamo. Once people begin to understand their problem, they can either keep calling for phone sessions, or they can come to our main centre, or to one of our outreach centres for further treatment and counselling.
5. What has the program’s success rate been like?
Because of the stigma that I just described, a lot of people were very down on what we were trying to do when we started. We put in place a slow-growth short and medium term plan, thinking that it would take people a long time to get used to the idea of what we were offering. The extraordinary thing to us is that it has moved so fast. Those suffering from conflict trauma say the same thing, again and again, in every language, and wherever there has ever been war or violence: ‘you’re not listening to me’. We are listening, and giving them as much time as they need, and this seems to have made a huge difference.
6. What have you learned from the experience of working with patients in Kashmir and from setting up this organization? What can we all learn from the people of Kashmir?
Probably the biggest lesson for all of us has been one that is universal, and not specific to the people of Kashmir: the human condition is incredibly resilient, but when it goes off balance it destroys not just one life, but whole families and communities. We so often underestimate the ability of that same human condition to rebalance itself, if just given some guidance, support, and time.
7. How many patients is Healing Kashmir able to treat? How many calls does the Help Line get?
We treat around 100 people a week at our clinics. Each one of them has a minimum of an hour’s session. This is in contrast to the three minutes that they get at the out-patient clinics at hospitals in Kashmir. The volume is huge, therefore government doctors here have little choice by to ‘process’ prescriptions, three minutes at a time. But time is what we give, because this is central to our ethos. The helpline gets, on average, 200 calls a week. Again each caller is given as much time as they need, and the average call is between 30-45 minutes.
8. What have been the biggest obstacles you have faced in your work with Healing Kashmir?
Endemic, crippling corruption that pervades every aspect of life in Kashmir. And the suspicion of foreigners, a wariness that we are familiar with now from recent history in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
9. What advice would you give to others who would like to start a charity of their own?
If you are going to set something up overseas, make sure you are absolutely clear on three things: the long term aim of the charity or project; that your entry method absorbs the best and most valuable aspects and practices of the culture; that you have an exit strategy and date by which you aim for the charity or project to be self-sustaining, or at the very least majority-run by local people who have a sense of an equity share in what has been set up.
10. How can we support Healing Kashmir? What can we do to help?
Please just have a look at the level of stress in your lives, and whether you are really taking enough care, and paying close enough attention to how you are doing. And if you like the idea of what we are trying to achieve, and wanted to help us, financially, or as a trauma therapist, please do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks to Catrin Lloyd Bollard.