– November 13 2019
Mental health counselors help Iraqi children heal
Delal is one of 6,600 children who live in a camp for internally displaced people in Dohuk, Iraq, where SOS Children’s Villages is the only organization providing comprehensive mental health support for children and adults.
Whenever Delal* recalls the horror of fleeing fighting in Iraq, the 12-year-old closes her eyes and imagines she and her family are in a green garden full of colorful roses.
She goes to this imaginary space to cope with the memories of the day she and her family escaped an attack on their village in the Sinjar Mountains. They trekked in sweltering heat for seven days with no food, and drank from the cap of the only bottle of water they had. Sometimes they came upon fighters who shot at them.
In a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Iraq, SOS Children's Villages runs a mental health program that taught Delal the technique of imagining her safe space.
“I saw the fighters in the mountains. Now when I see someone with a beard, I get afraid,” said Delal. “But in the [SOS Children’s Villages] center, they explained to us that not all the people with beards are mean.”
Delal is one of 6,600 children who live in the IDP camp in Dohuk, in northern Iraq, where SOS Children’s Villages is the only organization providing comprehensive mental health support for children and adults.
The program, funded through the support of Janssen Europe, Middle East and Africa Fund (Johnson & Johnson Foundation), helps children and adults recognize, cope with and overcome trauma. In Iraq, where more than 3 million people have been internally displaced since 2014, the program supports the Yazidi community displaced from Sinjar, as well as communities that fled from Mosul.
SOS staff use personal counseling and Teaching Recovery Techniques (TRT) to show children and young people ways to cope and heal from their traumatic experiences.
Since its launch in September 2016, the program has helped more than 1,500 children and 1,300 adults, and has indirectly impacted nearly 150,000 other individuals.
Guhdar Younis Omer, a psychosocial counselor at SOS Children’s Villages.
The program has been particularly successful because of the use and dedication of local counselors who understand the cultural background of the people they serve.
Not all children and parents are at a stage where they are ready to confront the traumatizing events they have experienced, says Guhdar Younis Omer, a psychosocial counselor at SOS Children’s Villages Iraq.
“We sometimes face difficulties with parents who don’t tell us about their children’s unusual behaviors because they are afraid that they will be judged. In some traditional communities here, it is taboo to talk about psychological problems,” says Guhdar.
Delal and three of her cousins completed the TRT session. They learned to express, recognize, and face their fears through a number of defense mechanisms that they can use whenever they have sudden flashbacks of the traumatizing events they experienced.
When they do not have school, the four cousins go to the Child Friendly Space that SOS Children’s Villages opened inside the camp. In this space, children can enjoy educational activities and play games designed by the team to complement the TRT sessions.
*The name of the child was changed to protect her privacy.
Learn more about our work with children in Iraq