Living Well at St-Camille

The plight of those with a mental illness is similar throughout Africa—they are the forgotten ones. They can be described as “the most forgotten of the forgotten”. Across African countries, psychiatric hospitals are very rare, as indeed are the psychiatrists; the price of medication is excessively expensive. Meanwhile, the mentally ill remain untreated. Without the understanding of mental illness, many people see those affected as possessed, as having been attacked by the sorcerers’ dark arts. They are considered taboo and to be avoided and abandoned.

Irene Aladaye’s family didn’t understand what she needed to help with her mental illness; they brought her to a traditional healer. “When I arrived there, I immediately began to sulk because I didn’t feel right about being there,” says Irene. “I didn’t feel good, at all. And if you try to escape and they catch you, you’re in for a beating. And they beat you really hard. We were locked in handcuffs – in my case, chained up.”

Irene’s illness got worse as a result of her poor treatment, to the point where she attempted suicide. “I couldn’t stand staying there any longer. I felt so bad in that place. So I tried to kill myself but Eternity’s powerful arm caught me and I’m still here.”

Thankfully, Irene was brought to the Association St-Camille-de-Lellis, which is one of the only centres in Africa that offers comprehensive mental health services. With locations in Bénin, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo, the organization not only provides primary health services to its patients, it also provides family support and job training so patients are well supported if they are reintegrated into their communities.

Cuso International is supporting St-Camille’s work by sending skilled volunteers to improve health services, education programming and art therapy. Our volunteers have also worked with the centre on social businesses. A bakery, farming and livestock production allow for residents and non-residents who benefit from health services to learn new business skills and earn an income. In addition, Cuso International organizational development volunteers are helping the centre improve its administration, financial systems and medical-record keeping.

The centre has become Irène’s home and a place where she feels safe and supported.  “I don’t want to leave St-Camille yet because when I go back I relapse,” explains Irène.

“I start feeling down and having behavioural problems. But, as soon as I get back to the centre, I feel well. That’s why I’ve decided to stay at Saint-Camille.”

In 2016, Cuso International’s work with St-Camille supported almost 4,500 people as they overcome the challenges of living with mental illness.

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