|Sports and activities foster friendships at the Psychosocial and Community Centre in earthquake-affected Bam, Iran.|
By Maziar Taleshi
On 20 November 2007, a UN inter-agency task force released new mental health guidelines for aid workers providing psychosocial support in emergencies. Here is one in a series of related stories.
BAM, Iran, 4 December 2007 – After the devastating 2003 earthquake in Bam, Athare Majidian, who lives here and works for Iran’s Ministry of Education, spent much of her time helping children overcome the effects of this tragic event and develop their resilience for possible future disasters.
As a key member of the team of only 30 surviving local counsellors from the Ministry of Education in post-quake Bam, she quickly found out that her work – school-based psychosocial help and teacher training, supported by a UNICEF programme – was taking her into new territory.
‘It is OK to cry’
“Before, we were told that children that suffered losses needed to be prevented from crying. We tried to stop them from facing the event,” says Ms. Majidian. “But now, we see this as normal and even beneficial. We tell them it is OK to cry.
“In the past, sorrow and grief would accumulate inside a child,” she continues. “Now, I find that after they are allowed to cry for an hour or so and we give them our support, their pain is eased.”
Indeed, helping children share their concerns and find ways to deal with their problems has been a key part of Ms. Majidian’s work.
Skills for coping
Building on this kind of experience, UNICEF has begun to advocate for the introduction of the same principles used in Bam on a national level – and not only in times of emergency.
|Adolescent girls participate in life-skills sessions with UNICEF-trained facilitators they have come to know and trust.|
The aim of the UNICEF initiative is to train municipal counsellors across Iran on how to provide psychosocial support, help children with ‘normalization’ processes and give them the resilience and skills to cope with a variety of day-to-day challenges.
The concept would be to make practical use of the experience gained by those counsellors who have worked in Bam, dispatching them as trainers nationwide.
Activities and life-skills training
With UNICEF’s support, Ms. Majidian says, she has gained a deep understanding of the child empowerment that results from taking a participatory and practical approach with young people. Since her experience in Bam, she has established a non-governmental organization known as Blue Umbrella, using the same approach she learned from working with UNICEF.
“We do activities and life-skills training,” Ms. Majidian explains. “There are a lot of problems with aggressive behaviour, and we try to use education and a lot of play to help the children manage their aggression.
“I now volunteer my time with 20 rural health centre workers,” she adds. “What I learned from UNICEF is the importance of group work. I work in groups whenever I can.”
When asked how she thinks the children in her groups would differ from others without the same training in the event of another earthquake, Ms. Majidian replies: “They are stronger…. Most importantly, they accept realities with greater ease.”