Last week, NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore welcomed a delegation of social service providers from the Eastern European country of Belarus. The meeting was arranged through a month-long professional exchange program of The World Trade Center Institute. Members of the delegation provide a range of community health and peer support services in Belarus. They are meeting with non-profits throughout the Maryland and DC region to learn best practices.
NAMI Metro Baltimore staff offered an overview of NAMI’s grassroots model of peer-led education, support, and advocacy programs. Volunteer Coordinator, Julianne Mills, shared the ways in which our more than 220 active volunteers work throughout the community to offer resources, life-saving information, and hope for recovery. Staff exchanged practices and ideas with our guests to help them implement or strengthen volunteer recruitment and training programs in their own non-profit organizations.
Throughout the conversation, both groups recognized a common, yet profound challenge: the impact of stigma. With the aid of interpreters, the group realized that “stigma” is the same word in both the English and Russian language. They spoke at length about the stigma that exists in both cultures and the impact it has on accessing needed support and treatment. The Belarusian delegation shared similar barriers stemming from stigma, including funding and resources, government regulations, and the need for increased public awareness.
NAMI Metro Baltimore Executive Director, Sherry Welch reflects that “we share the same frustration and pain in trying to provide support for those who feel the sting of stigma, while trying to change the larger conversation around the need for understanding and healing, instead of judgment and discrimination.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, gifts, contact information, and hugs were shared. But most importantly, there was the mutual recognition that we are indeed a global community, and it is only through supporting one another that we can change our communities for the better.
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