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ALforHealth network member receives $18,000 from the Social Entrepreneurship Fund (SEF) by Mastercard

“My first episode of depression happened when I was 10 years old…”

Obra Coulibaly, African Leadership Academy Class of 2016 & MasterCard Foundation-ALA scholar and mental health activist tells us how a personal experience led her to found her organization in 2019: SHVoices.

She hails from Ivory Coast and is a Senior Psychology student minoring in health psychology at the United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa) in Nairobi, Kenya.

Obra shares, “My first episode of depression happened when I was 10 years old…

I found myself in a spiral of unfortunate events which kept triggering me and made me become more and more vulnerable to depression and my immediate environment worsened my situation. I reached out to adults, and I was told that I was doing too much and that it was all in my head. So, I tried to live ‘normally’ and I learned to internalize a lot.

To be honest, I didn’t know exactly what I was suffering from, but I was sure of one thing: I didn’t feel well, and unfortunately no one seemed to understand me.

Years passed and in 2017, after more frequent episodes of depression and my first panic attack, I had the chance to see a psychologist for the first time.

This experience motivated me to realize that we need to demystify mental health in Ivory Coast and Africa in general. I also believe that most importantly we should take care of youth mental health by providing them with the right psychological support and help them access mental health services.”

Her personal experience with depression, studying the psychological field and being trained as a Peer Counsellor at the Counselling Center of USIU-Africa, fueled her need to take action in her community by creating her organization, SHVoices in 2019.

SHVoices aims to prevent suicide and psychological disorders through education, activities, and extensive support for young Africans aged 10 to 25. This goal stems from urgent needs she first identified through her personal experiences.

SHVoices holds activities in Ivory Coast and Kenya. The organization has been recognized by the Mastercard scholars’ program at USIU-Africa due to mentorship and counseling provided to the first cohort of the scholars’ program between 2020 and 2021.

Since then, SHVoices has impacted more than 200+ adolescents and young adults through awareness days, free counseling and mentorship, and its first boot camp (Mind Act Camp) in Ivory Coast and Kenya.

The first Mind Act Camp (MAC) was successfully conducted in August 2021 in Abidjan through the Mastercard Foundation’s Community Action Project (CAP) funding.  MAC is a four-day camp that aims to destigmatize mental health and mental illnesses for Ivorian youth through mental health education, personal development sessions and art therapy. The first camp ended with a conference hosting specialist in the presence of the participants and their parents.

Obra expresses, “I was moved by the impact on the participants. Some of the discussions made me realize that more and more young people need these kinds of spaces. Through this Camp, SHVoices impacted 50 adolescents and parents who hoped for similar rising projects like SHVoices.

The participants were glad to have such a platform and used a play to denounce harassment in school while others used spoken words to encourage others to speak out about their mental struggles.”

Khaly, a MAC 2021 participant shares, “Il faut parler de ses souffrances, pour se libérer de ces plaies émotionnelles qui nous bouffent petit à petit sans jamais nous prévenir” and this translates to

“It is necessary to speak about our struggles, to free ourselves from these emotional sufferings which eat us little by little without ever warning us”

Following her mission with SHVoices, Obra was awarded $18,000 in February 2023 by the Social Entrepreneurship Fund (SEF) by Mastercard ALA to kick start the construction of the SHVoices center. The center will be a mental health center in Ivory Coast dedicated to preventing mental health issues and care through cheap/free consultations, activities such as art therapy, sport & wellness activities, and support groups.

The organization currently provides active listening and psychological first aid training to volunteers of an online listening service. It also partners with Ivorian psychologists who offer guidance and to whom youth in extreme psychological and emotional difficulties are referred.

SHVoices seeks to run another Mind Act Camp in Abidjan in August 2023 for adolescents and parents and is open to partnerships and any support. Soon, SHVoices will also launch support groups (Groupe de Parole SHVoices: GPS) for university students in Ivory Coast to provide a safe space to allow youth to learn more about their mental health.  Obra will be soon starting the first podcast dedicated to mental health de-stigmatization in Ivory Coast later this year as a cofounder.

SHVoices seeks to hold more Mind Act Camps in Africa, mainly in francophone countries to demystify mental health for more youth and their parents in the continent.

The organization is open to any support and partnerships and can be reached at shvoicesci@gmail.com

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