Supporting survivors of violent conflict in Central African Republic

When a community experiences war, natural disaster or other traumatic events, the effects can be far reaching. Hidden stresses can damage family relationships, leading to domestic violence or substance abuse. Children may act out with disruptive behavior or display physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches or sleeping disturbances. In cases of inter-community conflict, cycles of retribution are common. Trauma experienced by individuals and families can have a negative impact on a community’s development efforts, but healing is possible for those who have suffered life-changing trauma.

In SIL’s partnerships with language communities around the world, our staff is committed to sharing expertise in language development, and also making resources available which support the overall health and longevity of communities. To that end, SIL staff have contributed to the development of trauma healing resources.

(January 2014) A recent workshop offered practical guidance for bringing healing to survivors of trauma in communities of the Central African Republic (CAR). In March 2013, armed conflict broke out in Bangui, the nation’s capital. Since that time, the situation remains uncertain, even dangerous, for the country’s five million people, especially those in remote rural areas.

The workshop was held in Bangui. Due to the ongoing crisis situation, the standard schedule was modified to allow participants to return home before the precarious evening hours. Facilitators from the Bible Society of CAR and SIL led sessions from the Healing the Wounds of Trauma materials. Staff from five organizations serving in the region attended the workshop as participants. In their daily work, these workshop participants bear the burden of serving their communities, but have also experienced significant trauma of their own. On the first morning of the workshop, participants were asked to list their desires and expectations for the course. Concerns that topped the list included personal healing, the tools to help others and practical steps to protect and prepare their communities.

Comments from participants:

Because of this workshop, my wife and I have finally started sleeping deeply at night. I’m spending time going over every lesson with my older children. I participated in this workshop before in 2004 and it was fine and helpful, but this time, because we are still in the crisis, it has really changed my thoughts and feelings for the better.

This is the first time I have ever heard anyone teaching about these things. I didn’t know before you could discuss them and find answers. Now I am ready to help others.

First, I have been healed of my own inner hurts. Now I feel very strongly that I have a special capacity to help others and I really want them to receive healing too.

I was very traumatized when I came, but now I feel almost healed. During the seminar I learned lots of very new things and now I feel ready even to help my family prepare for bad things that might come. I’m also now conscious of my responsibility to help others.

One night when I started again to think about the things I had written down [during one of the exercises], I found I couldn’t worry about them or feel hurt anymore! I really want to share this with others.

 

Facilitators are hoping to follow up soon with the next level of training—an advanced seminar is tentatively scheduled for June, pending funding.* In the meantime, participants will send in reports on the healing groups they conduct in their communities. In this way, facilitators continue to provide mentorship as workshop participants gain skill in leading others through the trauma healing materials.

Although trauma healing workshops have been offered in various locations for the past eleven years, facilitators have usually been invited to lead the training after a situation has stabilized. This was the first workshop held in an active conflict zone.  Workshop facilitator and Healing the Wounds of Trauma co-author Margaret Hill observed a number of advantages to offering the seminar during a crisis:

  • There is a strong feeling in CAR that the world has lost interest in their plight. A number of participants expressed that the presence of the workshop facilitators was encouraging because it indicated that others from outside care what is happening.
     
  • The healing experienced by many of the participants will allow them to better manage the realities of ongoing instability and flare-ups of violence.
     
  • Participants expressed a strong desire to help others but previously had limited knowledge of how to offer that help. As the workshop progressed, their enthusiasm for sharing the material through local healing groups was much stronger than during a typical workshop.
     
  • The crisis situation has brought together different groups who had not previously worked together, but were able to share ideas and resources and are now better prepared to work collaboratively in the future.
     
  • Facilitators were able to provide advice on practical matters of preparation, such as keeping copies of important documents in different locations and how to use different plants for food or medicine if the situation necessitates that people flee their homes. The workshop provided an oasis of calm. Participants enjoyed each other’s company and plenty of good food each day. Facilitators observed that participants were visibly more relaxed as the week went on.


The Healing the Wounds of Trauma workbook and workshop were originally developed by a team of SIL staff and professional counselors in response to the needs of communities they worked with that had experienced the trauma of war. The program has since been adopted and further developed by the American Bible Society’s Trauma Healing Institute. Resources have now been translated into more than 150 languages. Recently, the materials have been adapted into two new versions: one designed for those working with children, and an oral story version designed for communities with no written language or Scripture translation. ABS makes a strong case for the value of trauma healing for the long-term health of individuals and communities.
 

*Donors wishing to contribute to projects like this may contact SIL at [email protected].
 

Related links: