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"Comfort for Kids" responds to emotional trauma in children

Libya, September 12, 2011

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Methodology developed after 9/11 and used in Africa, Asia and Latin America will help thousands of Libyan children recover from months of conflict

Mercy Corps psycho-social experts have conducted psychological assessments of thousands of Libyan children who have endured months of violence in the city of Misrata, the epicenter of the conflict, and found that children are suffering from significant emotional and mental stress. In response, Mercy Corps is implementing Comfort for Kids, a program developed after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that promotes resilience in children who have witnessed or lived through disasters or traumatic events.

Led by Dr. Omar Reda, Psycho-Social Advisor and Sonal Shinde, Psycho-Social Program Manager, Mercy Corps plans to bring Comfort for Kids to upwards of 5,000 Libyan children.

“Children who’ve lived through Libya’s violent conflict are in desperate need of emotional help. Many children have lost family members and friends, and been exposed to bombings, shootings, and the deprivations of war. Unlike adults, children do not have the experience or judgment to process that kind of trauma by themselves,” said Dr. Reda, a Libyan-American who left his home in Portland to provide critical assistance to children in his home country after hearing news of the conflict.

According to Dr. Reda, traumatized children who are left untreated can develop serious, sometimes life-long problems: regressive or anti-social behavior, depression, aggression, and difficulties in school. Dr. Reda noted that many children in Misrata have already begun to display some of these symptoms, and explained it is critical to provide assistance before they escalate.

Mercy Corps has already piloted various psycho-social activities in the city, reaching 4,000 children through informal educational activities set up in tents throughout Misrata in the absence of a formal education, supporting schools in putting on concerts and plays, and establishing a training site that will provide the tools and resources for local organizations that wish to partake in the program. These structured and unstructured activities have mostly taken place in Misrata’s “Freedom Square.” Since mid-summer, approximately 60 children have attended activities at these tents everyday, seven days a week.

Mercy Corps has just completed additional psycho-social assessments in Tripoli and recommends expansion of the Comfort for Kids program to Libya’s capital city.

The Comfort for Kids methodology combines an educational program that helps adults to support children emotionally with an interactive workbook that helps children tell their story of the disaster in safe environments with adult caregivers. Children will likely also receive “Comfort Kits,” which contain soothing, age-appropriate items such as blankets, stuffed animals and books.

Comfort for Kids focuses on training locals who are not mental health experts to support children emotionally and know when referral to a mental health specialist is needed. These trainings make the program sustainable and scalable. Through carefully devised workbooks tailored to the language and culture of Libyan children – workbooks will be in Arabic – experts will train local caregivers and educators to talk to children about the conflict they witnessed, and address difficult questions such as those about death and grieving. Trainings will be conducted in Arabic.

Comfort for Kids was first developed by Mercy Corps and Bright Horizons after 9/11 to facilitate the emotional recovery of children in New York City. It has subsequently assisted thousands of children in post-disaster environments including New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and following severe earthquakes in Peru (2007), the Sichuan province of China (2008), and Haiti (2010).