Images: Tom Pilston for Action Against Hunger
Helping Rohingya Men deal with Trauma
Rohingya men experience the frustration and shame of not being able to live up to cultural ideals
May 14 2018
FOR MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK, WE ARE SHINING A LIGHT ON THE VITAL WORK ACTION AGAINST HUNGER IS DOING TO HELP VULNERABLE MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN WITH PSYCHOSOCIAL SUPPORT. THIS ARTICLE FOCUSES ON the men's mental health programmes in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.
Rohingya refugees have carried their trauma with them over the border into neighbouring Bangladesh following terrible violence in Myanmar. Since then, Action Against Hunger’s specialist teams have provided psycho-social support to over 300,000 Rohingya refugees who have arrived in Cox’s Bazaar since August, 2017. The mental health team in Bangaldesh established specific therapy groups for men as they noticed it was often too hard for them to open up in fron of their female counterparts. An essential part of creating a safe and open environment is filling that space with individuals who can relate to eachother and don't feel judged or tested against cultural norms, such as the ability to provide for one's family.
Mental health first aid is a vital element of Action Against Hunger’s emergency humanitarian response. Our psychologists and mental health counsellors provide support for those dealing with traumatic experiences and anxiety, which may affect men, women and children in the future. With the looming cyclone and the possible deportation of thousands of Rohingya back to Myanmar, the future of the Rohingya people is more uncertain than ever.
Farhana is the Director of Mental Health at Action Against Hunger Bangladesh and she stresses the importance of psychological first aid in emergency situations. She explained, “If you are stressed and mentally disturbed you will not be able to eat, sleep or maintain a healthy life. It’s that simple.”
The displaced Rohingya communities have been witness to unthinkable violence. Farhana said, “Some of the most disturbing stories have come from men who have seen their parents, wife or children killed in front of them without being able to do anything about it, without being able to protect or defend them. That is the worst trauma in the world. However, many men, because of cultural bias, are not able to express their fears. They feel shy or shameful to say they are feeling low.”
40-year-old Mohammed Toyob’s parents were both shot by pro-government forces. He then fled Myanmar with his wife and two young children to the Bukhali camp in Bangladesh. “I haven’t been able to sleep well because of nightmares and flashbacks.” he said. “As a man, I am angry, I want to go back to Myanmar and fight the military, to take revenge on them for what they have done to us; I hate them.”
Action against Hunger is among the few organisations providing psychosocial support specifically for men and adolescent boys from the Rohingya community like Mohammed. Farhana says, “Men don’t open up easily. Counselling and psychological support provides an opportunity to change behaviours.”
Mohammed Toyob has had seven counselling sessions so far. “I didn’t think anyone wanted to listen, but after the first session I felt happiness at being able to share my story with people who understood the same things as me.” Sharing his story in a safe environment, surrounded by other men who have experience similar trauma has allowed Mohammed to open up. “Today, when I share my story, I feel more support. I feel that I can cope better with the future, whatever that may bring.”
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