Post-war trauma endangers peacebuilding, economic growth: experts

Tue Oct 6, 2015 7:03pm EDT
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By Alex Whiting

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Traumatized by his experiences as a child soldier in South Sudan, 14-year-old Peter decided to settle an argument with two other children by taking an AK-47 from the local military barracks to shoot them.

Peter, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, was one of nearly 1,800 children being reintegrated into their communities after their release earlier this year from the South Sudan Democratic Army Cobra Faction in eastern Jonglei state.

Some were withdrawn and unable to trust people around them. Some, like Peter - who was disarmed before he could open fire - were prone to aggressive outbursts.

Counselor Shaun Collins, who has recently returned to Britain after six months as a leader on the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF) program which helped release and reintegrate the children, decided to not to offer Peter formal therapy.

Short of time and resources, Collins thought it better to teach the boy techniques to help him calm down, and draw in community elders, family, social workers and his teacher to help him change his behavior.

"We had no formal post traumatic stress disorder(PTSD)-type services to work with this boy, so we worked with what we had," Collins said, referring to a condition that can affect people like Peter who have had traumatic experiences.

Eventually the boy calmed enough to reveal that while fighting his way out of an ambush, he killed several people and saw close friends die. He became both victim and perpetrator.  

South Sudan has just a handful of mental health professionals to serve a population who have experienced decades of war.   Continued...