A teacher was working with an eleven-year-old child. They had an appointment to meet for a mentoring session and the educator was running late. She called the child and asked him to wait—just 15 minutes and then they could start. The boy, instead of waiting inside, decided to go outside for a bit. By the time the teacher reached the meeting place, her student had been killed. He had died in a bomb explosion.
This is just one of the many traumatic events that are occurring in Syria right now.
This educator not only lost one of her students, she also felt responsible for his death. Wracked with grief and with guilt, this “helper” also needed support herself.
That’s where Dr. Benjamin Keyes, the head of The Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies (CTRS) at Divine Mercy University, comes in. Working with the Barnabas Fund, an organization out of the United Kingdom that provides relief to countries around the world, Dr. Keyes recently traveled to Lebanon to play a very specific role in the relief world. He volunteered to work with a group of professionals and outreach workers, equipping them to heal from their own trauma and also to go back to Syria to help others.
“Bombs coming through their windows, being used as human shields, ducking sniper bullets”—these are all forms of trauma that Syrians are being exposed to daily, Keyes explains. And it’s not just one incident of trauma that people are trying to heal from; in this war-torn country, many people are dealing with loss of their homes, families, friends and culture, over and over again.
The group he assisted during this trip consisted of professionals and outreach workers—about 35 people, including priests and pastors, social workers and more. Many came from Aleppo, some from Holmes, and they planned to return to displacement camps at the outskirts of the cities. They want to be part of the rebuilding process.
Dr. Keyes sought to train them in a number of different areas, beginning with Compassion Fatigue. “How do you take care of yourself? Even in times of war and conflict – how can you take care of yourself so you can care for those that you are charged to work with?” These are the questions posed to participants. It seems basic, but things like sleeping right, eating right, proper exercise, taking breaks, and relaxation are essential coping skills for these outreach workers and can be so easily forgotten in the midst of taxing situations.
Then, participants are urged to take what they have learned about self-care and teach them to others. It is hoped that there will be a domino effect wherever these professionals go back and teach individuals and families how to practice self-care.
The group also particularly focused on hands-on skills to deal with child and adolescent trauma. Helping children to express the trauma they are dealing with internally, the group is now equipped to use a modified sand tray technique (a practice common here in the U.S.) where children can use stones and sticks to tell the stories of what has happened to them within a box of sand. These techniques are proven to be effective with victims of a number of different sorts of trauma—from domestic violence to sexual abuse.
Dr. Keyes taught the group how to teach families to “develop a healing script”. Giving families a way of coming together and dealing with whatever they are going through together is essential for their healing journey.
Grief and loss, Dr. Keyes explains, is “Not just the loss of peoples and homes, but the loss of community, innocence, a sense of safety.” His goal is to give the helpers the tools to help the many people who are experiencing PTSD in Syria right now. He cites 15-20% of people who undergo trauma develop ongoing problems. That percentage is higher war situations, however, because the trauma they are exposed to can be constant.
When asked what fruit he would like to see come out of his visit, Dr. Keyes replies, “That it instills some hope that things can get better, that they can get better. That there are things that they can do now.”
“I go”, Dr. Keyes shares, “because they are in need. I go because it’s the right thing to do. I go because the Lord I serve says we are to be all things to all people. We are to reach for the hurt and be there for each other.”
Dr. Keyes will be returning to equip more people to deal with trauma this month. He encourages people to consider giving money not only to organizations who provide material support (though that is important), but also those that work with trauma. He adds that each of us has a role to play. We can stay aware of what’s going on in the world, we can support those who are actively serving in the Middle East, and we can pray. In addition, people can get trained to help others themselves. There are onsite and online trainings available at places like the Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies at Divine Mercy University, as well as through Citizen Response Teams at local health departments.
Wounds go much deeper than just the physical ones caused by violence. Volunteers like Dr. Keyes and men and women on the ground are seeking to provide individuals and families the tools they need to work through some of the incredibly devastating trauma they have experienced and start to move towards healing.
Find out more about the Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies at www.divinemercy.edu/ctrs