By Ebele Orakpo
Miss Blessing Douglas is a 24-year-old international and comparative politics graduate of the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola, Adamawa State. She is the founder of Kintsukuroi Foundation, a non-governmental organisation set up with a vision to rescue children between ages 10-24, especially the ones from broken homes, orphans, vulnerable and underprivileged caught in self- victimization, depression, abuse, neglect and all other forms of mental illnesses or disorders.
Blessing on what motivated her to establish the NGO and the challenges.
According to Blessing, she attended three different secondary schools: Royal Girls Academy and Immanuel College, Abuloma, Port-Harcourt and Christ Academy International School Gwagwalada, Abuja, before gaining admission into the American University of Nigeria for undergraduate studies.
“I would say my transformation in life started out in the university. I was privileged to attend Africa’s first Development University, the American University of Nigeria,”she stated.
Although she graduated with honors in international and comparative politics, she said the experience and exposure AUN gave her could not be compared to the degree she earned. “From sponsored trips to conferences and workshops in Dubai, London and America, to interviews with BBC, CNN, Aljazeera, AIT, Vanguard and Premium Times, I was living the dream I never had. I was presented with opportunities that I would not have gotten anywhere else as a college student. I occupied various leadership positions and made several speeches at events and welcomed diplomats and journalists.
“I think the most memorable of all these events was the day I delivered a welcome speech for the US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power. Sitting next to one of the most powerful women in the world and engaging her in a conversation was something I never imagined. I would say I didn’t just get an education, I got a world class education,” enthused Blessing.
Motivated by the help she received from people around her while growing up, Blessing decided to help those passing through difficult times so they could turn out better and not bitter. “Kintsukuroi is a Japanese word that means ‘the piece is more beautiful for having been broken’.” I chose it because it reflected some of the things I have gone through as a child growing up. I have gone through depression and saw how it broke me, and I had people around me who did everything to see that I come out of it better and not bitter”, she said.
She went on: “Studying and living in a conflict zone, I could only imagine what the Boko Haram insurgency has done to so many children, women and families. I started the foundation after observing and imagining the horror that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) went through due to Boko Haram attacks.
“There is no doubt that mental illness exists in this place, and I want to do something about it. Most of the NGOs that come down here for rescue missions provide food, clothing and shelter. I believe these things are very essential, but at the same time, what is a healthy body without a sound mind? I think of Kintsukuroi as a platform where people, especially high school and college students, can be trained by psychologists and counsellors from around the world on how to identify basic signs or symptoms of mental illnesses.
“These trained college students can then go into their communities and apply their knowledge to solving mental health issues. Kintsukuroi also adopts a mentoring approach, organises vocational workshops, conferences, seminars, and funfair, as tools to engage and help youths battling with mental illnesses.
“Our vision at Kintsukuroi is to work with children between the age group of 10-24, especially those from broken homes, orphans, underprivileged and vulnerable children, who suffer from self-victimization, depression, abuses, bipolar or behavioural disorder and all other forms of mental illnesses.”
“The larger impact of this project is to provide a platform for systematic data collection and observation. Progress monitoring will be put in place in order to find the source of the problem, monitor the progress of the children, as well as noting the impact that this process will yield.
“Based on American Mental Health statistics, untreated metal health problems can disrupt a child’s ability to function at home, school and in the community. So we hope that this project will help in reducing mentally- related illnesses and disorders among children, reduce the suicidal tendencies as well as drug use and other negative activities that these children try to use as a distraction from the challenges they face and also create more awareness about the ills of mental health stigmatization.
“We also hope that our data will help influence government policies and create more platforms for mental health care and treatment.
We want to make sure that these young people don’t grapple with these challenges into adulthood.
“Mental illness is one issue that is often overlooked by most Africans. Some people even believe that the only form of mental illness that exists is psychosis.
So people barely pay attention to the cases of depression and other behavioural disorders until it degenerates to psychosis. As a new organisation, we are using our personal and community networks to raise funds, and at the same time, look out for grants.
“One of the major challenges we are facing is orientation. Trying to get people to believe that this problem exists and as such, should be given attention just like every other illness. I always say to people ‘mental illness does not have to be visible on your skin like chicken pox for you to take action.
“Another challenge is our location. Yes, we are situated in Yola and people always ask me why. We have thousands of internally displaced people, living with post-traumatic stress disorder. Majority are depressed and there are more intense cases of psychosis.
“So yes, we believe this is a good place to start.
“Finally, funding. Getting people to donate money to this cause requires a lot of convincing. Some people do not believe in mental illness, some think it is a western issue, and others think it is not as important as other issues such as poverty and unemployment. They fail to understand that someone who is unemployed and poor can actually get frustrated and fall into depression or even get suicidal.”