Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Today was our first day leaving the Into Abba’s Arms (IAA) compound to serve the surrounding communities. One six-member group from our team spent the day visiting with residents of a nearby internal displacement camp (IDP). The other three groups provided seminars on self-esteem to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at a local school. The three teams also presented on working with students who have been impacted by trauma to the teachers and school administrators.
As the van rolled onto the plot of land next to the IDP camp, the team was immediately spotted by small children who proceeded to chase the van down. They swarmed the van’s occupants with the anticipation of meeting new people. The children unashamedly ran up to each person, grabbing hands and asking to be swung around in circles. Their physical appearance made a bold statement of impoverishment but their faces were vibrant and full of life.
The residents of the community welcomed us with opened arms. The team visited the camp with the desire to help people overcome the symptoms of traumatic stress. However, the people were happy simply having visitors in their homes, pleased that someone would come out of their way to show concern for their needs.
“We’re waiting for the government to give us our new land.” It’s a promise that’s been in the works for 12 years. But many are still hopeful that they will once again have a plot of land to call their own. Having been removed from their properties over tribal disputes, most are dependent on the government and charities to meet their needs. Nearby forests provide wood and bamboo that can be put up for sale, but that does not fill the needs of every family. Each family in the camp longs for the day when their land will be restored so they can provide themselves adequately.
The team’s intent was to perform therapy; the people were grateful for company. Some residents, particularly younger residents, were much less optimistic than others, more concerned about their family’s next meal than with seemingly unrealistic hopes. Many of them grew up during tribal displacement and do not remember a time of owning land. Most of their memory is that of desperation. The team found it very difficult to encourage these young people. We pleaded with older generations to pour out their wisdom to the younger, restoring a sense of hope and motivation that has been lost.
The other portion of our team visited a local Catholic grade school that needed to educate students, teachers, and administrators on coping with traumatic stress. Culturally, it is unacceptable to speak about trauma out in the open, particularly trauma that occurs within the home. In addition, many teachers avoid engaging children that display symptoms of traumatic stress because they do not feel equipped for therapy. Though it is taboo to speak about sex in a formal setting, many of the students face the reality of sexual abuse. Other types of physical abuse are also not reported. Because of the “keep it in the kitchen” cultural mentality, instances of abuse and trauma are to be discussed within the family only, not mentioned to outsiders.
One of the team members said with strong emotion, “the kids are starving for something different.” This is the first opportunity many of them had to openly voice their experiences. Given a patient ear, the children were free to tell as much of their stories as they needed. In telling their stories and receiving feedback, the children worked through emotional and thought responses that will help them better manage stress in the future.
These children had the privilege of attending a Catholic school, but the highly-structured and formal environment provided little room for expressing what was going on inside. Hopefully, after receiving some training, their caring teachers will know how to engage the children emotionally, creating a foundation of self-esteem in their students.
Posted by Regent University Center for Trauma Studies at 8:01 AM