Healing and Hope for Refugees

by Jane Pappenhagen

Grace Simon, a refugee herself, has emerged as a leader in establishing a network of Trauma Healing* groups, even though she had only attended one Trauma Healing equipping workshop as a participant. With help from Trauma Healing Master Facilitator Clene Nyiramahoro, Grace is bringing healing and hope to many in Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi.

Before COVID-19 virtually shut down the world, SIL had gone on a fact-finding mission to Malawi to discover opportunities to provide Trauma Healing training in refugee camps. Jacob Tornga from the International Association for Refugees arranged for Dr. Steve Quakenbush (SIL Global Diaspora Team Director) and Clene Nyiramahoro to meet with Innocent Magambi, refugee and founder of There Is Hope, a Malawian NGO that provides access to education and income generating activities for refugees and their host community. After Clene led a sample training session at There is Hope,the pastors who teach at the school asked, “This is so good, when are you coming back?”  SIL’s Dr. John Ommani and Melanie Elden joined Clene in facilitating the first Trauma Healing workshop  in August 2019, where they trained 30 pastors, most of whom came from the refugee camp, and five women.

In February 2020, Clene, as the main mentor and coach, made a follow-up visit and discovered that more than 300 people had already attended healing groups led by those trained in the August session. The plan was to return in May and August 2020 for more training. But, of course, the pandemic changed those plans. However, one person proved to be unstoppable. Grace Simon opened her home to so many people, especially women and youth, who kept knocking on her door for help.

More people kept coming, but because of the restrictions and healing group requirements, Grace had to lead two groups each week on separate days. While the coaching team in Nairobi was worried Grace would burn out, she had a plan. She selected a few people from healing group graduates to help her lead sessions under her supervision.

Participants told Grace, “We came here, and we found help; where do you want us to go?” Since many women do not live with their husbands anymore, they have many children to care for. They said, “This program is so good. We get help, but when we go back to our houses, we still find the same situation that causes most of our trauma. Is there anything else you can do to help us?”

The group started thinking of activities they could do together to care for one another. That is how the TAZAMA Group was born. TAZAMA is a Swahili word that means “(Come) and See”, based on Psalm 46:8 “Come and see what the Lord has done...” Grace says, “Mwache Mungu aitwe Mungu'' which means ‘Let God be called God’. “Only He can do what He has done in Dzaleka. Now I have a name. I was nobody, but Trauma Healing and helping others has made me realize that I can also contribute to God’s work.”

The group invited everyone who needed healing to attend healing group sessions. After beginning to experience healing, they take part in projects they identify together to support their families. TAZAMA’s vision is to build a healing community that can transform lives in Dzaleka and beyond. The goal is to build a safe community where everyone feels welcome and cared for and where everyone is accepted and loved.

One of these projects was to make and sell hand sanitizer. One of the safety protocols for COVID-19 is to wash your hands. But when there is little water and no soap, that’s difficult. SIL Africa connected Grace to GREEN UHURU, a Malawian organization that teaches various skills to community-based organizations. Grace contacted them and met with them several times. They agreed to train them, but they needed money for the ingredients. This was provided by a former participant in a Trauma Healing workshop in Dallas who Clene knew. Forty people took part in the training.

One woman who attended the training said this: “We are so thankful for the people who were led to start this program in Dzaleka. … When we come to TAZAMA meetings, we feel that our burdens are lighter. We talk, cry and laugh together. We can share our burdens. … We have learnt how to make the soap. It is so easy because we can do it with our hands. … We feel we are no longer stuck.”

Word has spread about Grace’s work, and an overwhelming number of requests have come in to SIL for Trauma Healing workshops and training. Once the pandemic is over, SIL will pursue these opportunities in person. Meanwhile, coaching and training continues via WhatsApp and Zoom.

*a program that offers practical guidance for bringing healing to survivors of trauma