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Long-term Psychological Help Needed for Abandoned CAR Children

  • Kim Lewis

Children gather around a table at SOS Children's Villages Bangui. (Photo by Till Müllenmeister)

Children gather around a table at SOS Children's Villages Bangui. (Photo by Till Müllenmeister)

Continued fighting and displacement in the Central African Republic (CAR) has left tens of thousands of abandoned and severely traumatized children in critical need of mental health care, says the international organization, SOS Children’s Villages.

SOS Children’s Villages officials say children in the CAR are showing signs of emotional trauma during months of internal warfare. The children experience terrifying thoughts when they sleep at night, during the day they play violent war games and pictures they draw depict increasingly violent scenes. The international organization provides food, shelter and protection and gives these abandoned and orphaned children much-needed psychological therapy.

Lynn Croneberger, chief executive officer of the Washington-based SOS Children’s Villages - USA, says the global organization works in many countries where children are going through a lot of these similar traumatic experiences. “In CAR right now, that means we are providing support to the children in our villages in Bangui and Bouar, as well as children who have been recently left without parental care.

“They’re having trouble socializing,” Croneberger says. “They’re not sleeping. They’re having night terrors. They’re witnessing some pretty horrendous sights at this point.”

When psychologists ask some of these children to draw their feelings, “They’re drawing photos with stick people with guns. They’re drawing blood. They’re drawing murder scenes,” says Croneberger. “They’re not drawing typical rainbows and butterflies like children normally would draw.”

Stress reduction is not something that children should be experiencing, she argues. But, the therapy is helping them to sleep better.

Psychologists work with those who care for the abandoned and orphaned to recognize trauma, and teach them how to deal with traumatic situations for these children, Croneberger says. “If we can train our caretakers and do a train the trainer model, then we can provide more consistent long term psychological support, in addition to the security. Those are things that will help the children in the long run.”