Healing Childhood Trauma
UNICEF and partners are providing psychosocial support for children in Malakal
Malakal, South Sudan. Achuei, 16 years old, from Malakal, said she felt angry all the time and felt compelled to constantly defend herself, causing problems in the classroom, until she eventually no longer wanted to come to school.
Like Achuei, the experience of trauma is part and parcel of children’s life in South Sudan, as they face a multitude of risks (gender-based violence, child marriage, loss of friends and family members) - all of which can take a toll on their mental health and emotional development. Repeated exposure to conflict, flooding, drought, and displacement, has been shown to result in behavioral change in children.
Effective Psychosocial Services activities including counselling implemented by trained individuals, support in building the resilience of children who are suffering from the toll of the conflict and natural disasters in South Sudan.
UNICEF, through the contribution of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and EU Humanitarian Aid, has promoted trauma healing, psychosocial awareness, reconciliation, and peaceful co-existence in 8 target schools in Bor and Malakal through training of counsellors, teachers, and school administrators and supporting awareness outreach activities.
The teachers and counsellors have been provided with the skills to recognize and manage signs of stress caused by the impact of trauma experienced by the children. The teachers and counsellors are also provided with the tools and skills to identify symptoms of trauma and refer the affected children to the relevant psychosocial service provider.
Since the staff underwent the training, we have been able to identify children who need more help. Sometimes we see a withdrawn child, not participating in play, or a child being violent towards others. We are able to connect these children now to counselors and in some cases even refer them to hospital.
Since the school counsellors arrived and Achuei began attending their sessions she began seeing a change in her own behaviour. “I take my time to think and understand if I am wrong. I don’t fight or hurt others anymore. I go to my teachers for help,”
I am glad I got the help that I needed, it means maybe in the future I can help others.
In 2022, UNICEF and partners have reached over 4000 children including 60 per-cent girls in Bor and Malakal with trauma awareness and psychosocial activities through trained counsellors and teachers.
There was limited knowledge of trauma awareness and psychosocial support activities in schools across South Sudan, however, the project has helped to increase the knowledge and understanding of the teachers, school administrators, and students about the causes and consequences of trauma - and more importantly, positive coping mechanisms and the ability to seek help.