When she was in the fourth grade, Alisha Moreland-Capuia, MD, and her classmates were asked by their teacher what they wanted to do when they grew up. Moreland-Capuia had one resounding desire in her mind that would ultimately shape her life’s work: She wanted to help people who were suffering.
Moreland-Capuia jotted down this sentiment in her spiral notebook as an 8-year-old, and turned it into her life’s work, becoming one of the leading trauma-informed care experts in the world.
Through her efforts at McLean Hospital’s Institute for Trauma-Informed Systems Change, which she founded, Moreland-Capuia has trained countless individuals and organizations to utilize trauma-informed care through their decision- and policymaking.
She also harnessed this innate desire to help others into a nonprofit she co-founded called The Capuia Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to help the people of Angola rebuild their country following decades of civil war—a cause of great personal importance to her family.
Now, with the help of a $100,000 grant from McLean, The Capuia Foundation is constructing the Institute for Trauma-Informed Systems Change in Africa in Angola. The project will provide a physical space to deliver this crucially needed training not only to decision-makers throughout Angola, but across the African continent.
“When we began our foundation with the goal of rebuilding the infrastructure in Angola around health care, education, and agriculture, we soon realized that while we can provide resources to improve these services, there remained an untapped need to address the trauma that the people of Angola had experienced,” said Moreland-Capuia.
“How can we meaningfully improve their access to these resources while ignoring this crucial component underlying their mental health and daily lives?”
A Foundation Is Born
Until 2002, Angola experienced nearly 30 years of violent civil war, which began immediately after the country regained independence from Portugal after centuries of colonization. Those cataclysmic events, rife with experiences of violence and oppression, are at the root of the trauma much of the country’s citizens have experienced, and which has shaped their daily lives.
As a medical student, Moreland-Capuia became interested in effects of fear and trauma on the brain and began training under mentors who were leaders in trauma-informed care.
Trauma-informed care is an approach that considers the trauma that an individual may have experienced or still be experiencing, and offers training and education to facilitate healing and empowerment.
While living in Washington DC in the early 2000s, Moreland-Capuia would have frequent discussions with her husband Daniel Capuia, and father-in-law, Estevao Capuia, MSc—both Angola natives who left the country during the 1970s as the war intensified—on what they could do to help the country rebuild following the civil war.
They agreed that agriculture, education, and health care should be priorities for rebuilding, but disagreed on where they should focus their efforts first.