By Sr Valentina Pozzi
Sr. Valentina Pozzi, an Italian Religious, has been working in the Trobriand Islands of the diocese of Alotau, Milne Bay Province, for the past nine years (2005-2014). While doing pastoral and community work, Sister developed counselling strategies for Papua New Guinea. Recently she spoke to Catholic Reporter PNG about her work and legacy:
Sr. Valentina, you came to Papua New Guinea and the Trobriand Islands with a background in psychology. How did things work out for you, in terms of community service, after the initial adjustment period?
Initially, I didn’t know exactly in which way our new Community of Reparation Sisters could be of service to the local community. I followed the suggestion of an experienced missionary priest who told me simply to be patient and to learn the language first. And so I tried my best to do exactly that! I spent time visiting the communities, listening to the people, and trying to learn as much as I could about everything. Only later on did we start to be of service, especially by getting involved with Health Care, HIV-AIDS, informal education and counselling.
How did you get involved in training counsellors and what are you leaving behind?
My initial involvement was accidental or perhaps providential! I was introduced by a friend to the late Mrs Sima Koupere who was at that time Director of the Milne Bay Counselling Services in Alatou. She had a dream: to write a Manual for the Training of PNG Counsellors, something really home-made, and she asked me for help. I accepted the challenge and together with a wonderful team I was able to accomplish the mission. We have published a manual entitled: ‘Counselling Best Practice: Training Manual for Counselling in PNG’. With it we have set the Standards for Counselling in PNG and the related Assessment Tools. I am proud of this work and enthusiastic about my Training of Counsellors!
In what fundamental aspects of personal and/or community life does counselling need most to focus in Papua New Guinea?
This is not easy to answer! When we talk about people’s life the situation is complex. But I think we should avoid the temptation to focus on ‘problem solving’ and really insist and invest on formation and prevention. If it is true that Counselling is particularly to be considered to help both victims and perpetrators in numerous issues: neglect, Gender Based Violence, child abuse, and so forth, then it is likewise true and very important to value Counselling in the work of Prevention. We should introduce it massively in the formation of people, especially those in education and helping professions: teachers at all levels, health workers, child protection officers, police officers, as well as priests and religious sisters.
Where do PNG institutions presently stand in relation to counselling? I am particularly referring to the education and health sectors, the correctional services, the government departments and the Churches.
It is nice to see that many institutions in PNG seem to recognize the value of Counselling and seem to be interested in promoting it. On the other hand, I have not seen a proper investment in it. At least this is my observation! We have many training programmes, but the quality of most of them is too shallow, too superficial. It seems to me that there is a sort of prejudice in most of the training organizations: somehow the idea that for PNG scanty training is good enough; that ‘they cannot do much more, or learn better’. This is not true! Instead it is extremely important that we offer good quality training, and maybe not only in Counselling. Unfortunately we have many people claiming to be ‘professional counsellors’ only after ten days training. Even the best trainer can’t do much in ten days! Of course, anybody can help others, especially if “the other” is in great need, but not everybody is a Counsellor. It is very important to understand that Counselling is not only a question of ‘heart’. We have many good hearted people, but some of them confuse their desire to help with the competency required to offer Counselling.
Nevertheless, something seems to be moving in the right direction: the PNG Counsellors Association is already established and the plan to set up a PNG Counselling School is in place. I hope that Churches and the Government departments will work in synergy with the Counsellors Association so that we can soon have certified, competent Counsellors and qualified Counselling Services in PNG. (GL)