Healing Central African Republic's traumatised children
At classes for young people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, girls draw pictures of men with guns, missing limbs and lost children
Nov 16 2016
By Paula Dear and Samuel Hauenstein Swan for Al Jazeera & Action Against Hunger
They look like ordinary schoolchildren, sprawled on mats, drawing pictures of their homes and families with felt pens, but the girls' disturbing images depict scenes of violence: men with guns, missing limbs and lost children.
This class of eight at Gobongo school in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, is no ordinary lesson, but a group therapy session for children showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as aggression, bed-wetting, night terrors, lack of concentration and developmental disorders.
It's a reality for many in Central African Republic, a country in which every community has been traumatised by a cocktail of brutal conflict, displacement, hunger and poverty.
Central African Republic's sectarian strife peaked in 2013/14 after a mostly Muslim coalition of fighters, called Seleka, seized power. A coalition of Christian fighters, called anti-balaka, was formed and a cycle of religious and ethnic violence followed, including gun and machete attacks, kidnappings and the burning and looting of homes. More than 6,000 were left dead and nearly one million displaced, according to the UN.
Action Against Hunger has begun running trauma sessions in an effort to start the healing process, in which children use pictures and role play to describe their symptoms.
The girls are not asked directly what they have experienced. Anouk describes her picture: "During the war the guy in the picture had his arm cut off. Someone else had their house destroyed and they are weeping for it. One person also has a gun and would like to kill somebody - he is angry."