Schoolchildren suffer from the trauma of war

Always afraid that bad things will happen again

Children who experience violence, murder, war and conflict often struggle with high levels of anxiety and stress. Many have post-traumatic nightmares, have trouble sleeping and can’t concentrate in school. The worst thing is that they keep everything to themselves.

“It becomes a vicious circle,” says Jon-Håkon Schultz, Professor of Educational Psychology at UiT The Arctic University of Norway.

What is it like to be a school child during war? In Gaza? In Syria? In Afghanistan? And what about Yemen?

What is it like to see or hear that people in your neighbourhood, or at your school, are being injured or killed?

What does it do to you?

“You can compare it to anxiety in a bubble. If you don’t puncture that bubble, the post-traumatic nightmares live their own lives and steal your energy,” says Schultz.

To help children struggling with stress and trauma, Schultz and the Giving Hope For Them (GHFT) have developed the Better Learning Programme (BLP) – a psychosocial programme for schools. The object is for the children to find their way back to the energy they need to be able to retain what they learn at school.

Schultz has been on many trips to Gaza and other parts of the Middle East in connection with his work. He believes the Better Learning Programme and GHFT’s school building initiatives give cause for hope.

“By giving displaced people structure in life, you build something that helps them survive. But without structure, they become vulnerable – much, much more vulnerable. When your family is crumbling and you can’t function at school, you have nothing. Structure is what makes the big difference.”

Education changes lives. You can be a part of that change by becoming a monthly donor.

When school becomes a lifeline

School is the most important investment we can make for displaced children.

“The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all children have the right to attend school and receive education. But for children who have experienced war and displacement, school is not just a place for learning. It’s just as much about the healing factors: the things that will help them return to a life without trauma,” says Schultz.

A good school helps children get over their trauma. Then, the school becomes a lifeline.

GHFT teaches the children various simple relaxation techniques, so that they can learn to regulate overwhelming emotions. Breathing exercises are one such technique.

“There is a lot of research on this. It is as simple as: when you take eight to ten deep breaths, you signal to the brain that it is okay to relax. We explain this to the children,” says Schultz.

A good school helps children get over their trauma. Then, the school becomes a lifeline.

GHFT teaches the children various simple relaxation techniques, so that they can learn to regulate overwhelming emotions. Breathing exercises are one such technique.

“There is a lot of research on this. It is as simple as: when you take eight to ten deep breaths, you signal to the brain that it is okay to relax. We explain this to the children,” says Schultz.

Tablet devices to the rescue

Ezzeldeen, 11, and his family fled from Syria to Jordan in 2012. His father, Mohammed, explains:

“Our hometown Daraa was ravaged by violence, so we went to Jordan to find safety. Life here in Zaatari refugee camp is difficult. I have not found work. The pandemic has made the situation even worse.”

“It is extremely important that children learn to read and write. They need access to knowledge so that no-one can cheat or exploit them,” says Mohammed.

He looks at his son, Ezzeldeen, before continuing:

“My children’s schooling has been chaotic. In such an uncertain life situation, they lose out on education, and it also makes it difficult for them to concentrate. But now they are able to continue their education – thanks to tablet devices from GHFT.”

“The Better Learning exercises help me relax. Then I can also di schoolwork.”

Ezzeldeen is a shy boy. But when he talks about school, he lights up:

“The Better Learning exercises helps me relax. Then I can also do schoolwork,” he says.

“I like the online learning lessons, because they help me make up for what I have missed. I have decided to become a paediatrician when I grow up.”

The pandemic is causing children even more stress
The Covid-19 pandemic has led to additional stress for children who are already struggling with experiences of war and displacement. Watch GHFT’s award-winning film “Stressed” – which also features Jon-Håkon Schultz:

Buried with their dreams

The Gaza region has been left in ruins several times, most recently between 10 and 21 May 2021. Then, 260 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli bombing. Israeli authorities say 12 civilians were killed by Palestinian rockets in Israel.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply