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Myrthe van den Broek

War Child Holland

After obtaining her Master’s degree in Anthropology from VU Amsterdam, Myrthe van den Broek started working at War Child Holland. Her work includes helping to develop a programme for children with mental health problems in Sri Lanka. “We can help break the taboo on these issues.”

Myrthe van den Broek (born 1990) spent some time working in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. War Child joined forces with local organizations to help children with behavioural and emotional problems. “Many children here are in a tough situation. Due to the civil war and the 2004 tsunami, families were ripped apart. Poverty has forced parents to work around the clock, resulting in neglected children.”

When children develop certain problems they are not always recognized. Or there isn’t enough knowledge on the available care, meaning that they often don’t receive it. War Child Sri Lanka is developing an identification tool for this purpose.

“The tool is an example story about a child with problems”, says Myrthe, “and can be used by so-called key individuals to signal problems faster. These are people important and trusted in the community, such as teachers.”

Fourteen countries
As a researcher for War Child Holland, Myrthe frequently travels to current or former war-torn areas. She has previously helped set up a project in Palestine. War Child helps children in fourteen countries by providing psychosocial help, education, and protection, in cooperation with local organizations.

Myrthe assists on programmes and tests that align with local culture, customs and behavioural norms. “These must always be taken into account. In some countries it would not be practical to start a study during Ramadan. You may also need to take stricter gender norms into account.”

It is not enough to only develop good aid. “When there’s a stigma or people are ashamed, they will not use the help on offer. Even in the Netherlands, we tend not to discuss topics such as emotional and mental health problems among children. In countries like Sri Lanka, where social connections are strong, this tendency to avoid these topics is even stronger.”

For this reason War Child cooperates with ‘key persons’. If they support a form of aid, the stigma and associated shame can be reduced.

Group interviews
During her studies Myrthe learned how to conduct qualitative research, or, in other words, observing and interviewing people in order to study their culture. “In Sri Lanka I conducted group interviews with parents to discover which types of problems their children most frequently have. We look at how the parents discuss these issues. How open are they willing to be with each other?”

Studying anthropology appealed to Myrthe because she travels a lot and is very curious about other ways of living. Her dissertation was a study on how smartphones shape the identity of Islamic students in Indonesia. She spent three months in Yogyakarta for her research. 

As a researcher for War Child she has benefitted from her broad-based study programme. The organization sees anthropologists as indispensable. “War Child operates in many different situations and as an anthropologist I have the skills to adapt to each and every one. My colleagues will often say: this situation requires an anthropological perspective.”

Myrthe van den Broek

“We can help break the taboo on these issues.”