Fear of breaking glass, slamming doors, lack of desire to get out of bed in the morning just some of the difficulties Syrian refugee children experiencing since start of war
By Jimmy Patterson
AMMAN, Jordan — Many Syrians who have made the journey from their home country to Jordan seeking safe haven from the violence in their former neighborhoods often bring with them only the clothes they are wearing.
The children displaced by the war often bring much more, say psychologists, counselors and social workers with Caritas Jordan, a humanitarian social service agency of the Catholic Church in Jordan. They see many psychological and emotional issues in children, not uncommon for the kinds of brutal violence many have witnessed.
Caritas Jordan offers therapy sessions, both group and individual, to those who have made the trek here, and who bear the emotional weight of trauma, grief and depression. The relief programs they take part in are supported by the American-based Catholic Relief Services (CRS).
The trained specialists caring for Syrian refugees say there is much work ahead to get the children through this the most trying part of their young lives.
“Most of the children coming here just want to work through the trauma because of the things they have seen in Syria,” said Jwan Qaqash, a psychologist trained at the University of Jordan who now works for CRS/Caritas Jordan. “Some of them are afraid or aggressive.”
It’s difficult for most children to understand and be able to communicate a need to work through their own trauma. It’s a long process that requires the support of a trained counselor.
Thanks to generous donors in Midland, many of these children are receiving education and care. These programs also include classes to help parents understand and learn how to better deal with the behaviors and emotions resulting from the post-traumatic stress.
In some instances, Qaqash said the children are dealing with such extreme fear they wet the bed at night. Some simply can’t sleep; others have shown a resistance to even get out of bed in the morning. Also common is a child’s fears of simple sounds such as a door that is slammed or a glass that may break. The suddenness of such a noise can momentarily cause the child to think they are hearing gun shots or bombs.
Qaqash says she speaks with parents first before treating the children, as a means of gaining an entry point with a
child and in order to determine what kind of issues she will be dealing with in a particular child.
An effective way CRS/Caritas Jordan professionals have to deal with a child’s emotional concerns is to work with feeling blocks. The child tosses the block and whatever emotion is exhibited when the block stops tumbling is discussed for that particular session. Subjects the workers and students talk through include respect, love, help, justice, hope and solidarity. Emotions routinely faced include anger, sadness, surprise, confusion and happiness.
When the children make progress, Qaqash says the parents from Syria are happy because of the way their child responds to the caring work of the therapy professionals.
“Children often talk only about their homes, they don’t know how to express what they feel about other damage inflicted during the war. Most children who come here are afraid of airplane sounds and fireworks,” said Qaqash.
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Sometimes before a psychologist or counselor sees a child, a teacher can be the first person outside the home to notice that a child might be having difficulties.
Manal Hejazeen, who teaches Jordanian children during the traditional classroom time in the morning and Syrian refugee students in the afternoon, has seen children suffering from many troubles and feelings.
“Sometimes they ask me to have another class so I can stay with them,” Hejazeen said. “Many of them are too shy to talk, or too frightened inside. All of them want to go back home. They will tell me, ‘Miss, my school in Damascus was damaged, when we go back we are not going to have a school.’
“Some of them can’t laugh. I try to go between them, clap my hands, make them smile. They are in such need.”
The teachers also hear details of how the students’ lives have been turned upside down since the onset of violence in their hometowns in Syria. Hejazeen talks of children who describe those homes and the towns from where they come; stories of how life used to be, of playing in neighborhood parks or swimming with family members who are now dead.
“Now, we don’t have a house,’ they will tell me,” Hejazeen said. “They will say, ‘There is a war, my father is dead, my uncle is dead.’ You can see the tears inside of their eyes but they cannot cry.”
(Catholic Relief Service is the international arm of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It supports the impoverished, vulnerable communities in nearly 100 countries, through local partners like Caritas.)