Wellbeing and Resilience (WebR): Healing-centered peacebuilding

Wellbeing and Resilience (WebR): Healing-centered peacebuilding

Project type:

To support conflict transformation by addressing underlying trauma and its effect on people and their environment.

Brief description:

Healing-centered peacebuilding using a trauma-informed lens with communities and institutions.

Project status:


Innovation summary

Violence and its adversity are one of our biggest threats: it impacts our wellbeing, our behavior towards each other, our ability to learn and develop, and even our economy[1,2,3] We target unstable regions and conflict-affected zones. Our programming has grown in to be a unique social movement driven by local network partners. It incorporates low-resource methods building upon cultural practices and healing traditions.

GSN’s healing-centered peacebuilding approach is encapsulated by the Wellbeing and Resilience (WebR) Framework. Drawing from systems theory and several other fields, the approach taps into organic processes and contributes to healing and breaking cycles of violence “from the ground up.” WebR employs an arts-based, storytelling pedagogy engaging people of all walks, leaders, and decision-makers at all levels, and stakeholders from diverse fields.

Impact summary

  • 4,270 of participants in the 12-week sessions, impacting 77,930 indirect participants
  • Community interventions alleviate trauma symptoms while significantly increasing favourable behaviour related to peace and reconciliation
  • Community interventions facilitated increased positive behaviour related to social engagement, peace and reconciliation. Out of 537 people who took part in the post-program survey, 80% reported using the healing tools they learned in the healing sessions with 42% of these respondents saying that they use these tools daily and 33% saying that they used them several times a week. This has led to increased resilience and significantly alleviated their trauma symptoms. (Of these 1494 respondents, 777 were women and 717 were men. participants took part in the study)
  • At scale, a participant costs less than $150 USD, and indirect participants cost less than $18 USD

"Male police officers find it difficult to navigate work-life balance. Having to regulate their emotions through traumatic work experiences and still be fathers and husbands. Many of us resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms to get by. We all need a healing intervention like this because we are all impacted by our work." 

- Police officer, Directorate of Criminal Investigations National Police Service


Innovation details

Trauma-informed approaches for Healing-Centered Peacebuilding

  • Few organizations have developed sustainable, culturally relevant, grass-root trauma-informed interventions outside of North America. Yet there is a direct link between levels of trauma in vulnerable, violence-prone communities and the challenges faced with justice, reconciliation, security and overall economic and social wellbeing
  • Using a unique and rich African indigenous methodology, Community Facilitators guide participants through a 12-week program using watercolour paintings invoking storytelling and sharing of experiences in a safe and supported space within the community. The main drivers of the program are the Community Facilitators who are volunteers. During the 12-weeks, 12-15 participants from a location meet for two hours a week in a peer support group guided by the volunteers
  • The guided discussions focus on an introduction to toxic stress and trauma, effects of trauma, coping mechanisms, the cycles of victimhood, aggression, and transformation. Participants are encouraged to share stories they see within watercolour paintings as it reflects their own personal experiences

Key drivers

Customization and contextualized

  • The Green String Network (GSN) engagement with healing-centered peacebuilding began in Somalia in 2013 with the development of the Quraca Nabadda (Tree of Peace) programming and was piloted in South Sudan in 2015 with the Morning Star[1]. GSN’s programming expanded to the Kenyan Coast in 2017 with the development of Kumekucha: It’s A New Dawn, piloted in Gambelia, Ethiopia in 2018 with Yegarachin: It’s Ours, and the Muamko Mpya: Healing the Uniform further develop the model with the Kenyan National Police Service (NPS) in 2019 and is currently adapting Arise and Shine in Abyei in South Sudan/Sudan in early 2020.

Resilience Expanded

  • Traditional definitions of community resilience commonly incorporate terms of recovery from crises and change, like as natural disasters and public health challenges. GSN broadens traditional views of resilience to encompass resilience in the daily adversities’ communities face (i.e. insufficient access to social and health services, inadequate housing, systemic poverty) (Ellis & Dietz, 2017). Community resilience involves transformation from adverse environments to those that support and facilitate family health and wellness without losing the community’s unique identity and essential characteristics.

It is not what is wrong with you but what happened to you

  • Trauma is widespread and pervasive for families and communities where GSN operates. When addressing adversity and trauma, it is important to recognize that family and community strengthening organizations must target program intervention at an individual, organizational, and community-level to affect real change. Building community resilience is viewed as an important factor in preventing childhood adversity and strengthening healthy communities.

Trauma is not solely an individual phenomenon

  • Living in an environment which reinforces adversity and trauma can affect a family’s ability to “bounce back”4. Significant health and wellbeing inequalities exist among children and adults living in adverse community environments. Community environments lacking opportunity, have limited economic mobility, community violence, widespread poverty and joblessness, lack of affordable and safe housing, and/or discrimination often need positive buffers that promote resilience. Practitioners and community members in high violence neighbourhoods report the entire community (e.g. children, youth, and adults) are psychologically and emotionally affected by the adverse community environment, with many exhibiting the symptoms of trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)5.

There is a “Mama Anisa” in every community

  • She is the person everyone calls, when there is a family or community crisis. There are not enough trained "counsellors" in violence prone communities to help people deal with the high levels of distress. GSN supported programs work to identify and support hundreds of “Mama Anisas”. These mobilizers are the sustainable agents of community resilience and community strength.

Long-term Sustainable Change

  • GSN’s healing-centred approach aims for long-term human-centred transformative social change where local human agency is reclaimed, structures transformed, people own and sustain their own healing agenda.


People do not understand Us – Why are peacebuilders engaging in community mental health interventions?

  • Few organizations have developed sustainable, culturally relevant, grass-root trauma-informed interventions outside of North America. Yet there is a direct link between levels of trauma in vulnerable communities and the challenges faced with justice, reconciliation, security and overall economic and social wellbeing.

Fund-raising and sustainability

  • As a new organization, GSN continues to be funded with project base funding and does not have a long-term funding for developing the next stage of programming.
  • Most local organizations who met us would like to participate in our programming but they are also project based and have limited funds and time to engage in such programming. All these efforts are a call for collaborative and collective efforts in creating sustainable and cost-effective models that can be easily replicated and scaled up with mass impact. 


We have developed the innovation initially in Somalia with communities and former al-Shabaab fighters; and have adapted it to Kenya for both communities and police officers; adapted it to a board area of Ethiopia called Gambella for communities and leaders; and are currently adapting it for Abyei region of South Sudan/Sudan.

GSN scaling model plans to work with local partners in each new geographical location, who will drive the local healing processes. GSN’s focus would be on supporting content and program development, capacity building and training of the network partners, and learning and evaluation which comes from the collaborative partnership; with the local partners in charge of the leading the implementation of the programming.  Our scaling module is still in its infancy and is a priority for GSN to fully develop in order to take our work to scale.


  • National Police Service (NPS) (Kenya)
  • Mombasa County Government (Kenya)
  • Onkout (Somalia)
  • SAMBA Youth Sport (Kenya)


  • US State Department
  • European Union
  • International Migration Organization (IOM)


Evaluation methods

Evidence-based programming

  • With support from psychologists, a multi-disciplinary approach is taken in our program assessments. Measurement instruments are designed, utilizing behavioural and psychological scales along with questions related to socio-economic, political and conflict-related indicators
  • Because both a healing-centered peacebuilding approach and prevention of violent extremism are not well understood or tested, GSN has invested significantly in the study of the populations we serve and the outcomes of the interventions.
  • We have data sets from Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia looking at frequency and types of exposure to violence and other traumatic events, behaviour related wellness or resilience, behaviour related to peace and conflict, attitudes related to peace and conflict and levels of mental distress and Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms
  • In November of 2019, GSN published a report on its work on the Prevention of Violent Extremism and trauma-informed peacebuilding
  • The program gives rise to activities initiated through the participants or through community leaders. We have recorded a wide range of events and activities such as a participant who developed radio programs focused on healing and violence, town hall meetings where participants are asked to speak about the program lessons, and other events focused on youth, preventing / countering violent extremism, female genital mutilation (FMG), and even women’s role in society

Cost of implementation

When the programming is done at scale, it costs less than $150 USD for participation in the programming. And less than $18 for indirect beneficiaries.

Impact details

  • Our programming is designed to influence communities as a whole. Each participant is asked to share the lessons of the community program with an additional 20 people.
  • On average, we see members of the program are sharing lessons with at least 18-20 people.
  • Since early 2017 we have impacted 4,682 direct participants, 77,930 indirect beneficiaries in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia in 23 communities, holding 3,516 community healing encounters and 27 Wellbeing and Resilience Leadership workshops, working with 160 sustainable community volunteers.
  • When the programming is done at scale, it costs less than $150 USD for participation in the programming. And less than $18 for indirect beneficiaries.


  1. Ellis, W., Rodgers, K., & Baldauf, S. (2020). Fostering Equity: Creating Shared Understanding for Building Community Resilience. Washington, DC: Center for Community Resilience. https://ccr.publichealth.gwu.edu/sites/ccr.publichealth.gwu.edu/files/pdf/Fostering%20Equity%20-%20Module%20II.pdf
  2. Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, Peace and Peace Research. Journal of Peace Research, 167-191.
  3. Lederach, J. P., & Lederach, A. J. (2010). When Blood & Bones Cry Out: Journeys through the Sound scape of Healing and Reconciliation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. Ellis, W.R. & Dietz, W.H. (2017). A new framework for addressing adverse childhood and community experiences: The building community resilience model. Academic Paediatrics, 17(7s), S86-S93.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28865665/
  5. Pinderhughes, H., Davis, R., & Williams, M. (2015). Adverse community experiences and resilience: A framework for addressing and preventing community trauma. Prevention Institute, Oakland, CA.