Skip to content
University News

Clinical psychology student’s desire to help children dealing with trauma leads her on a global journey

The Rwandan Genocide of 1994, which lasted approximately 100 days, left a horrifyingly enduring legacy in its wake. The extensive trauma found in the aftermath of an estimated 800,000 to one million murders; 75,000 children left orphaned; and 250,000 to 500,000 rapes, has an inter-generational impact that is experienced throughout the country. The Global HOPE (Healing Opportunities through Purposeful Engagement) Training Initiative was born, quite indirectly, out of a desire by The Chicago School to create a task force that would somehow help Rwanda in its efforts to overcome the destruction.

When TCSPP task force’s planned partnership with a non-governmental organization failed to be brought to fruition, a new strategy was needed. “Back in 2007 there was a call-out to all faculty asking for involvement in the task force,” explains Tiffany Masson, Psy.D., co-founder of the program, vice-president of e-learning and global innovation, and interim campus dean, Chicago Campus. “The partnership with the NGO fell through and we (Dr. Mark Kassel) asked ourselves what we could do.”

The two professors reached out to Sayaka Machizawa, Psy.D., current associate director of Community Partnerships, for research assistance.  Dr. Machizawa’s research findings helped determine Dr. Masson’s and Dr. Kassel’s decision to create the Global HOPE Training Initiative, a program that would help children deal with trauma.

“Sayaka’s research was really helpful. We also didn’t want to just assume that we knew what was needed, so in 2009 we traveled to Rwanda and created a focus group. The focus group included teachers, orphanage workers, paraprofessionals, and child and youth care workers.”

Taking the information they learned from meeting with the focus group over a 10-day period, Drs. Masson and Kassel developed a comprehensive curriculum designed to aid teachers in effectively recognizing, assessing and intervening with traumatized children. Using the train-the-trainer model, faculty and students from The Chicago School train the teachers of the affected children to use the curriculum and in turn, those teachers train others. One student who has been involved almost from the beginning is Jenna Hedglen, M.A.

Hedglen, a student in the Chicago Campus’ Clinical Psychology Program, was among the inaugural group of TCSPP students to travel to Rwanda for the first implementation of the program. Hedglen and Global HOPE together have experienced what some may term transcendent growth since the program was first executed in 2010.

“I was a researcher for Dr. Masson when I first started my involvement,” an excited Hedglen, now in her last year at The Chicago School, says. “I was a part of that first trip and I fell in love with it. I wanted to do more and I asked Dr. Masson how I could be more involved.”

Based on Dr. Masson’s reaction when asked about Jenna, it was not a hard sell. “Jenna is an amazing student,” she says sincerely in a tone of deep admiration. “She helped to build it {Global HOPE} out. She learned what I’d learned very quickly and played a role in helping me put the ideas and concepts together.  She just dove right in.”

Hedglen started participating in the weekly telemedicine calls with the trainers, calls that are used to check in with the trainers they’ve trained and with the teachers in their charge. She also took charge of the advocacy data that looked at trainer and participant feedback. So taken was she with the work they were doing that she not only conducted her dissertation in Rwanda, but she also developed a curriculum specifically for the parents of the children who participate in the program.

“It was something that I put together, but it was all through the supervision of Dr. Masson, and it was all drawn from the original curriculum,” she is quick to say modestly. She also points out that the training was led by teachers and not by her.

Dr. Masson, however, believed enough in Hedglen’s passion for the work and her knowledge and abilities that she asked her to take the lead in implementing the Global HOPE Training Initiative in South Africa.  “We were entering a new country, and I needed to be able to trust that the person going would represent what Global HOPE is really about – that she would respect the culture and make sure that we’re doing no harm,” Dr. Masson says earnestly.  “It was a big step for me to be able to say, ‘Jenna, I can’t go. I want you to go.’ I trusted her so much to be able to pull it off and she did a fantastic job!”

“I felt very grateful for the opportunity, but I was scared and worried about it,” Hedglen says, remnants of nerves lingering in her voice as she recalls her state of mind at the time. “I would have to travel by myself, I’d never done a training on my own and I’d never been to South Africa either, but it was like ‘okay, we’re just going to go for it.’”

Go for it she did, and her worries were unnecessary. With the help of daily telesupervision meetings with Dr. Masson while she was abroad to ensure that she had the support she needed to complete the training, Hedglen was such a success that they are putting together another grant for the Department of Education in South Africa because they want a larger training.

“When I think about Jenna, I think about how much she has grown professionally over the past five years and how much she has contributed to the country of Rwanda,” Dr. Masson continues in her description of Hedglen. “Her humble nature and cultural competency is beyond her years.  She is an amazing student and one that I continue to learn from year after year.”

The Global HOPE Training Initiative has been implemented in Rwanda, Zambia and now South Africa. The curriculum is cross-cultural and tailored to the psychosocial needs of the communities of each country. Currently in Rwanda there are 32 schools with teachers trained in the Global HOPE curriculum with an estimate of 100 students per school being impacted by the program. The program in Zambia works with about 500 children. The teachers in Rwanda and youth care workers in Zambia trained by Global HOPE Training Initiative learn how to help vulnerable children manage reactions, reduce high-risk behaviors and engage in constructive activity to improve their well-being.

“The stories of the people of Rwanda changed me forever,” says Dr. Masson. “I’ll never be the same, and I think many of our students and faculty who do the trainings feel the same way. When I look at Jenna, I see how this is exponentially growing. We thought the growth would happen in the countries, but we also see it in ourselves.”

When asked where she thought Hedglen would be in her career in three years, Dr. Masson says, “I don’t know, but the world is her oyster. She has a lot to contribute.”

Currently serving her internship at Advocate Family Care Network’s Childhood Trauma Treatment Program, in Oak Lawn, Illinois, Hedglen says that her short term plan is to continue to be involved with an agency that offers trauma-focused treatment and emphasizes community outreach.