Teachers as Therapists
Children attending class in a Sarajevan safe school.
Whether in Sarajevo, Mostar, Tuzla or Zenica, children have been the main victims of the atrocities of war.
More than half have been shot at, lost their homes or been forced to watch family members being killed or injured. During our travels, some Bosnian school officials initially were reluctant to let children directly participate in the Teachers as Therapists training seminars. Understandably, the adults wanted to protect the young. But during visits to classrooms, the children volunteered to talk about their plight.
They reported sleep disturbances, nightmares, flashbacks and lack of concentration, classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. They looked pale, depressed and under-nourished. They also cried readily when talking about their sorrow.
School officials, beginning to feel more comfortable with us and the program, soon allowed us to interview the children during our training seminars. We shared a mutual goal: learning about the children's problems and training professionals to help them.
"Children are children"
A 13-year old amputee receives home tutoring.
In school, the children were overactive and noisy, running back and forth in the hallways and talking loudly. Many children used denial, rationalization and pseudo-maturity as defenses against their anxiety, grief and depression. It was not unusual to see a 4-year-old boy speaking, behaving and interacting like an adult. The constant threats on their lives-and the mere wish to survive-has propelled children into adulthood before their time.
Due to trauma, many of the children lost their ability to make future plans. They appeared depressed or spoke of suicidal wishes. Local teachers and mental health professionals reported a variety of trauma- related somatic symptoms: bed wetting, abdominal pain and headaches were common. The teachers also reported a number of emerging social problems, including prostitution and drug abuse among school children. One continued problem involved relations between refugee children and local community members, both of whom may resent the other.
Amazingly, despite being ravaged by war, children do not talk about revenge. Their attitude highlights the important role of teachers, who explained that they emphatically teach children that revenge only perpetuates the hatred that led to this war. Here are some examples of the typical case scenarios we encountered in our work. (Names have been changed to protect identities.)
Dedicated to preserving and promoting the well-being of children, Teachers as Therapists is the joint effort of University of Missouri-Columbia, Coordinating Council for Humanitarian Agencies, Islamic World Committee, Human Appeal, Human Relief Agency, United Nations Children's Fund.
If you would like to contribute, make your check to MUICPT and send it to:
International Center for Psychosocial Trauma
N119, One Hospital Drive, Columbia, MO 65212.