Comforting kids in Misrata


October 18, 2011

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    Kids and adults at the orphanage in Misrata received trauma counseling, learned normal and abnormal responses and appropriate coping mechanisms. Photo: Salma Bahramy/Mercy Corps Photo: orphanage2.jpg

When unrest began in Libya earlier this year, Misrata was at the very center of the conflict. Today, as I look around this city, signs of prolonged fighting are visible everywhere: destroyed buildings, abandoned shops, streets littered with garbage.

Amongst the rubble and the ruins, a local orphanage is slowly starting to recover as the city is rejoicing in its newfound freedom. One hundred and nine children, aged 1 month to 16 years, lived in the orphanage when their building was hit. For 6 days, these children hid in the basement of the building to avoid being caught in the crossfire. When the children resurfaced, they found ruined beds, clothing and school items.

Mercy Corps, who had set up an office in Misrata in June, responded by replacing clothes, shoes, beds, mattresses and paying teachers who had their salaries cut off during the conflict.

Mercy Corps also sent in Dr. Omar Reda, a psycho-social advisor, to assess the children’s emotional wellbeing and provide one-on-one psycho-therapy sessions to help ease the stress of their recent ordeal. Kids and adults at the orphanage received trauma counseling, learned normal and abnormal responses and appropriate coping mechanisms.

Mercy Corps supplemented their individual weekly psycho-therapy sessions with child-friendly group activities such as arts and crafts, sports and putting on concerts and plays.

“These kids have already suffered the loss of one or both of their parents and were now having to deal with being exposed to warfare. Though surprisingly resilient, they naturally expressed anxiety about what they’d just lived through and fear and uncertainty about their futures,” says Dr. Reda. “Working with the kids one-on-one and using social activities gave them a way to both externalize their experience and restore a sense of normalcy to their lives.”

Today, Mercy Corps is working to implement this type of psycho-social program to help children throughout the city of Misrata. Comfort for Kids and Moving Forward will initially launch in 12 pilot schools that see the highest number of conflict-affected children.

Comfort for Kids teaches trainers and teachers to work one-on-one with a child affected by trauma and Moving Forward uses group activities and play-based intervention to support youth in recovering from the trauma of a disaster by strengthening resilience and coping strategies. Both programs were first developed after 9/11 to facilitate the emotional recovery of children in New York City and have been adapted and used to help 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).

This week, Mercy Corps will lead a 4-day Comfort for Kids and Moving Forward training session in Misrata for teachers at the 12 pilot schools.

“Children all across Misrata have endured so much violence. These programs will provide them with the ongoing support they need to recover and allow them to be children again,” says Dr. Reda.