Accessibility links

Darfur's Refugees Struggle to Recover from Trauma


Sudan's war in the Darfur region has been devastating, marked by attacks in which pro-government militias have burned villages, killed people in front of their relatives, and raped young girls. A peace deal was signed recently with a major rebel faction, but for many victims the trauma of war lives on. Some aid groups are trying to help.

The Gaga camp in Chad lies across the border from the Darfurian town of El Geneina.

Many barely survived horrific attacks that left them in a state of shock and despair.

One Kenyan association is trying to help.

It brings together volunteer refugees who go out to every tent in the camp, looking for the traumatized and mentally unstable. .

Many of the aid workers do not speak Arabic, so a translator is on hand. It is slow, deliberate work. Coordinator, Basilla Ciakuthi, say" We always start an ethnographic survey, where we collect date to find out what is the impact of the war on the refugees, what is the level of stress that they are having at the moment and who are their primary care givers. So we are able to empower them with the skills to help the refugees."

Sam, a 30-year-old Kenyan, is one of the project's counselors. He was a gym teacher, but decided that with so many wars still wracking the continent, it was time he tried to make a difference.

Along with two refugee volunteers, and the translator, he pays a first visit to Ousmane and his family.

Ousmane is 17. He lives with his mother and sister. He does not speak anymore. He does not feed himself. He does not move at all, even if he needs to go to the bathroom.

His sister explains he has been like this since he saw militias execute his father.

Sam's method is to befriend such victims, spend time with them, and try to coax them into talking about their horrors, so they can come to grips with their past and try to be able to function a little better with what life has offered them.

He says it is difficult, and that often, these victims have been given too many debilitating drugs before he reaches them. "We find that in most cases, they just go to the hospital and they do not know what is supposed to be done and from what type of a case he is suffering from. We do this and me, as a psychologist, I come, I assess them, we do an interview, and depending on the signs and symptoms of behavior, I can tell what kind of a psychological problem he is suffering from.

Sam is not actually a psychologist by training, but he tries his best.

There is just one psychologist on the team. The worst cases are sent to Doctors Without Borders.

Next Sam visits seven-year old Amna. Little Amna lives at the camp with her eight brothers and sisters. Her older sister explains militias killed their parents.

She says that is the day Amna stopped speaking, stopped being able to walk and stopped being able to feed herself. She can barely keep any food inside her, without throwing up.

Sam says he would like to take Amna to another camp where they are gathering children whose development has been completely erased by the war, and try to get them to express themselves through drawing, singing and acting. Many girls like Amna were raped as well, so it is not always easy to reach out to girls, who see all men as evil.

An attack during war can be very brief and deadly, even for the living, Sam says, and now it is his work here to counter the savagery and ugliness of war, and give these children some help to start the grueling climb back toward life and sanity.

XS
SM
MD
LG