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Advisor Interview: Sonya Jakubec

October 27, 2006

Photo of Sonya Jakubec Sonya Jakubec is one of over 20 advisors who have provided input for the initial outline and drafts of Helping Children at Risk for Emotional and Behavioral Problems, which we are currently preparing for community and expert review. The book will help caregivers meet the needs children through age 5 who have experienced traumatic situations, such as the loss of a parent (to AIDS, for example), war or conflict, abuse and neglect. Hesperian talked with Sonya about her involvement in this process.

HF: How did you become involved in working on Helping Children at Risk for Emotional and Behavioral Problems?

SJ: Ten years ago when I was working in West Africa coordinating a community mental health team, the lack of relevant resources to support our workers in the field was alarming. The team I was working with produced some of our own resources – a table-top teaching tool, and some community health nurse training manuals – and I sent these to Hesperian in the mail all the way from The Gambia with the suggestion that “we need something from your organization for mental health – HELP!”. That was the beginning of my relationship with Hesperian, and ongoing contribution to mental health oriented resources for the village level. Later when assistance in writing and reviewing for the Helping Children at Risk for Emotional and Behavioral Problems was required I jumped at the opportunity.

HF: Had you known Hesperian’s books previously?

SJ: I first got a copy of Where There Is No Doctor when I was a nursing student in Canada about 16 years ago. The book was sort of a starting place for my curiosity about health and development, and inequities in the bigger world. Later when I started doing international development and health work in the 1990s, little did I know how useful that book would be!

HF: From your own experience working as a community mental health nurse in a number of developing countries, what kind of need will this book help to fill?

SJ: There really is very little in the way of policy, programs and basic resources for people on the ground in many developing countries. In terms of treatment, there are few trained staff, often mental health is not prioritized in training programs. There are few people then to champion prevention and treatment for emotional and behavioral problems. Information resources are also very few; sometimes even one textbook is like a piece of gold, locked up in the offices somewhere far from the field work on the ground. Then, there is the matter that mental health resources are typically highly theoretical and laden with concepts that are relevant to managing health care systems in the West, and rarely address the issues of development and globalization. These kinds of tools are problematic and so the way that Hesperian consults a range of knowledge and experts to produce their books really can get to the locally relevant information and share it in an accessible manner is very important.

HF: What do you think are the biggest challenges to creating a book like this?

SJ: It is very difficult to merge all the different writing and interests, and to keep some kind of focus that will be practical for problem-solving in the field. Steering away from the concepts and framework of Western psychology and psychiatry is also a challenge as it is a language and way or working much of our Western society is captured by – including me!

HF: How are these challenges addressed in the work?

SJ: Having so many people reviewing and revising the work helps to address this problem. So many eyes on the work as it is being produced, and so many voices lending to the critique and revisions are vital to getting through the challenges. I think being aware that all the renditions and revisions and critiques are what make the end product useful and accessible is what moves and motivates everyone involved.

HF: As the book is developing, what do you think are the most important things we are learning and incorporating?

SJ: I think we are all learning how captured we are by the framework of Western psychiatry and psychology. But how we are incorporating an everyday approach to problem solving and caring has been a great lesson learned. The relevance and usefulness of the book are really coming from that approach.