This morning, The African Union Southern Africa Regional Office (AU-SARO) and the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) Inc., & Affiliates, an organization based in the United States of America (USA) paid a courtesy visit to the Minister of Education in Zambia, Honourable Douglas Siakalima. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the upcoming Mental Health Pilot Program in Zambia. The Mental Health Facilitator (MHF) program, a fundamental training program developed by NBCC whose main role is to promote equity in mental health, enhance access to quality and competent counselling services, as well as support the growth of counsellors to foster hope, innovations and development of needed mental health services across the globe among others.
In his opening remarks, The Honorable Minister Siakalima, welcomed the AU-SARO and NBCC and indicated that this program would complement the Ministry’s endeavors in scaling up mental health efforts in the Education sector, given the ongoing challenges on mental health that the country is facing. He further stated that “Mental health has been in existence for a long time in the school system, yet ignored”, elaborating on the cost implications of ignoring mental health in schools, and largely emphasizing on the need to strengthen career guidance and counselling teachers in schools.</p>
The AU Permanent Representative to Southern Africa, COMESA and SADC, Ambassador David Claude Pierre informed the meeting that the baseline for this partnership with NBCC was consistent with the core mandate of the office especially in the promotion of Article 24 of the Africa Youth Charter which stipulated on the Expansion of mental health and Counsellor training Services in Africa. He further elaborated on the need for mental health promotion for the youth indicating that, “in order to shape the thinking of a child, it was important to do that when they were young, so as to prevent future problems”. Additionally The Minister of Education also pointed out that with respect to mental health, there was need to start with early childhood education and ensure that people were mentally ready in their respective career fields as they grow.</p>
According to Dr. Wendi Schweiger-Moore, Director for Global Capacity Building, the NBCC was first introduced to AU-SARO over 10 years ago primarily due to NBCC’s MHF partnerships in Africa. She highlighted that in 2013, NBCC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with AU-SARO. The purpose of the MOU was to collaborate and work on the expansion of counseling and guidance services in Africa, citing the support of Article 24 of the African Youth Charter of mentally and physically challenged youth in which NBCC provided funding to support one of the first mental health conferences with the AU which occurred in November 2019.</p>
As a continuation toward the objectives of this conference, NBCC and AU-SARO have finalized an MOU to pilot the MHF program in Zambia, Malawi and Seychelles respectively. Furthermore, NBCC will be providing funding and staff support for the delivery of the program in collaboration with AU-SARO. Lastly Dr. Wendi Schweiger-Moore assured the meeting that NBCC has committed staff, resources, and funding to support the advancement of the partnership with AU-SARO.</p>
The Zambian Ministry of Education expressed enthusiasm that the relationship between the African Union and the Zambian Government on mental health was being reviewed, especially now that the Ministry was thinking of revising the Zambian school curriculum. Given that the Examinations Council of Zambia was the Secretariat for the Examining Board in Africa, underscoring there was need to relate this to the AU Protocols on Education with emphasis to cement these efforts on the counselling and assessment side.</p>