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Trauma Counseling and Suicide Bombers

By Andrew*

When Salam* came in for counseling at a refugee resource organization in the Middle East, she was ready to commit suicide. She was planning to find some kind of explosive device, strap it to herself, and then go back to a location known to be under ISIS occupation and blow herself up. The amount of hatred she had for ISIS and for herself was that severe.

ISIS is a terrorist group that has plagued the Middle East for the last several years and they commonly use sex slavery to fund their military endeavors. They conquer an area militarily and then kidnap as many women as possible. After escaping or being released, hundreds of these women, like Salam, now live in refugee camps. Some of the women are pregnant after being raped and abused, and now deal with some of the worst emotional trauma that can be imagined. The families – the fathers, and the brothers are also dealing with the guilt and shame of having been powerless to help or to protect their homes. Add all of that emotional baggage to being forced out of their homes and neighborhoods and having an uncertain future for their children. All of those emotions provide a basis from which trauma and fear emanate for refugees in the Middle East.

Over the course of several days of describing to RMM the different facets of his work in the Middle East, the director of an organization working with some of these refugees let us know what needs were present in the region where RMM intern, Glen,* was being sent.

Many people asked the director the question, “What’s your biggest need?” This question can be tough to answer because crisis situations, like the one happening in the Middle East, almost never have obvious solutions. The issues overlap with other issues in ways that make it impossible to pinpoint one big problem to deal with first. However, this director didn’t pull punches for us, “We need an army of counselors.”

When people think of working with refugees they usually start by reflecting on all of the physical needs that they have. This organization is indeed dealing with people that have lost their homes and are no longer in a position to earn an income to provide for their families. The refugees are in a vulnerable situation and are often powerless to change their circumstances. However, this organization’s approach to helping refugees is to put them in small camps that are self-governing and resource them as much as they can so that once their home area is safe again, they can move back and start rebuilding their lives.

This approach provides resources for the number of people they can actually help. Other refugee camp models try to provide resources for every single person who has need, and in the end they do not adequately provide enough help. These micro refugee camps hold about twenty families each. They provide schooling, transportation to and from school, daycare, and English classes for adults in hopes that they can prepare people for whatever is next. Even with the micro refugee camp model, providing these things has proved difficult to fund. But, little by little they are expanding and improving the quality of what they can give to refugees.

“No one can attach a dollar value to how trauma impacts people moving forward... Trauma, however, lurks under the surface and destroys people from the inside.”As difficult as it is to get enough funding to meet the demand for the physical needs, it has been even more difficult to deal with the emotional needs. Traumas from the events that led to people becoming refugees run deep and will often be a life-long process of moving forward in a healthy way. No one can attach a dollar value to how trauma impacts people moving forward. Houses have costs; even the loss of education can be measured and worked through in a more visible way. Trauma, however, lurks under the surface and destroys people from the inside. It is hard to fundraise for and show positive results from trauma counseling. Donors typically like to see something tangible for their donation.

In April, Glen took me around to see the micro refugee camps, he took me to see the community center and school that this organization is running, and I sat in on several English classes. Because of its sensitive nature, trauma counseling wasn’t something I was able to sit in on, though he did tell me Salam’s story (see opening paragraph).

As Salam talked with a counselor about forgiveness, she was able to start to see how her life could have purpose and hope after all. This is one story, and it has had a good ending so far. But the story isn’t finished yet. Trauma is typically dealt with in layers. Salam is one of many, many people who need someone to talk them through the forgiveness process. An anti-human trafficking organization came to this region to evaluate the needs and see who would qualify as survivors of human trafficking. In this area alone they identified over 500 women.

This organization has jumped in and started dealing realistically with some of the worst situations from the ISIS conflict. My prayer for them is that they wouldn’t lose heart in working on the front line. I pray that God would send more people into this harvest field to exemplify Jesus to those in need. The forgiveness, hope, and love of Jesus is needed there more than ever. Please join RMM in praying for this organization, for our intern Glen who is working with them, and for more workers to be sent into this region of turmoil and opportunity.

*Names changed or omitted for security