We have some amazing alums here at Endicott, and we take such pride in sharing their successes. We profiled Jana in our upcoming Connections magazine, but there’s so much more to her story than we were able to fit. So here is a deeper look at her adventure to start Second Chance Africa, a charity to help treat post-traumatic stress victims in Liberian refugee camps.
Jana Pinto’s work has taken her from Massachusetts to the Middle East to Africa, blazing a trail in the treatment of post- traumatic stress victims.
After graduation from Endicott in 2004 and working at Mass General Hospital in psychiatric genetics research, Jana set off in pursuit of work in the clinical field treating severe anxiety disorders. In Israel she unearthed a passion to make a difference in the world through her work – she knew her path lay in helping war survivors with PTSD.
Jana traveled through Israel and Africa, crossing the Israel-Egypt border by foot, passing through Ethiopia, and ending in Ghana as a volunteer in a Liberian refugee camp. Curious to find the differences and similarities of how African war survivors dealt with trauma, she started running trauma workshops in the camp, and soon she was treating hundreds of refugees, including former child soldiers. When a UN staff working suggested starting a non-profit organization to provide trauma services, Jana agreed, despite having only been in Ghana for one month.
Inspired by her patients, Jana named the organization “Second Chance Africa”, to illustrate how trauma healing can offer a second chance at life. She set to work organizing and training a network of counselors and administrators within the refugees who could continue the work when she returned to the US:
“Once I had the documentation, I remember sitting under a tree and thinking that all I had were the refugees to help me. Soon I would be gone, and had no money in my account. In fact, by then nobody back at home knew what I exactly I was up to in Africa. I selected 15 suitable refugees for the job, and taught them 3 hour evening classes daily for one month, to teach them how to carry on the trauma workshops in the camp while I was overseas. In the last class I gave them an exam, and those who passed were selected to be part of the team. I set up an email account for one of them who would be responsible for communication and reporting monthly impact, and left. During that first year, they carried on workshops to refugees and former child soldiers and combatants without pay. They chose to do it because they believed in the cause, and that was very moving to witness.”
The following year Jana returned to Africa with the goal of moving the project to Liberia, the homeland of Second Chance’s volunteers and patients. In Liberia, she worked to gather supporters, including the country’s mental health director in the Ministry of Health, and sent for her staff. Now on a steady path of growth, Jana put together a board of directors in the US, which includes two of her most ardent supporters, Endicott’s former Chaplain and director of community programs Mike Duda and Karen Edwards, an EC professor of psychology.
Says Jana of the experience: “When I first arrived in Africa (and I believe that happens to many of us who go there), I felt a certain level of arrogance, because in my mind, I was the one there to help them, I had something they needed. But in fact, that was nothing but a inner struggle to feel important in the world. Over the years I realized that I need them more than they will ever need me. Surely, I was, and am able to contribute by sharing my skills, knowledge, and passion for the cause. But what I got back is much greater than what I can give. They have helped me in every way a person can be helped. The way I look at the world, my priorities in life, and every year learning how to become less self centered are good examples.”
Jana is currently in graduate school at the University of Queensland in Australia studying Neuroscience, and she splits her time between schoolwork and running Second Chance. “Administrating my time between graduate school and Second Chance is a big challenge,” she says. “It takes a lot of discipline, and sacrifice of free time to get work done. But nothing compares to landing in Africa and meeting face to face the people whose lives were changed because of the project. Seeing their smiles and gratitude makes every challenge very small.”
For the future, Jana hopes to use her graduate position to bring neuroimaging equipment to Africa in order to better study the neural mechanisms of anxiety and traumatic stress, and then work on funding for her own research idea: development of a trauma treatment model for Africans, which combines local dances and drumming. She will be part of Second Chance as long as needed, traveling every year to monitor the project, providing ongoing clinical training, and fundraising overseas, but she hopes one day to reach the point where the organization will become self-sufficient and able to replicate similar work in new locations.
Thinking about volunteer work and what impact you might have, even on a small scale? Take Jana’s words to heart:
“I don’t believe in large or small scale impact. I believe in impact. I think it is important that we value each life, one at a time. All I did was to put my heart and soul into 4 refugees, among them a former child soldier and former combatant. I trained them, gave them trauma treatment, relocated them to their country and gave them housing and a job. Today, they reach out to about 500 war survivors per year, but our philosophy continues to be “quality not quantity.” So my first piece of advice is to put your heart into what you want to do, and not worry how “big” or “small” results will be. To those considering starting an organization: don’t replicate existing work! The reason I started Second Chance is because no one else was doing what we do. If you come across an organization that does the work you’re interested in the location you want, join and support them, instead of starting another project. It is ugly to see organizations competing for funding these days, when they should rather be working together for the well being of others.”
Learn more about Second Chance at SecondChanceAfrica.org, or visit them on social media: