Joy is Key for Healing Children

Monday, May 8, 2017

Mussie Abel Fissehaye is a psychosocial counselor at CVT Ethiopia.

One fundamental thing I’ve learned is that when extending care to children who have lived through torture and traumatic experiences, they need to know how to survive. My clients are very young, and it’s very serious. To help them, there are many therapeutic tools I use. However I have come to understand that along with counseling and support, we need to bring them joy.

I work primarily with minors in the refugee camps in northern Ethiopia, and with these young people, psychoeducation is extremely important. This is especially true if the children feel suicidal, which happens too frequently as many of them are unaccompanied minors in the camps. They have fled Eritrea to avoid forced conscription into the military, and they have left their families behind. They don’t know how to process their feelings and cope with their sadness. So they come to CVT.

Back in my home country, Eritrea, I was in college studying business, learning economics. I lived my life there enjoying a good status with my family and my friends. Through my studies in finance, I was working to help people with the economy. I enjoyed helping people. However, I had to curtail my education. Then I came to Ethiopia.

I applied for this position with CVT in order to make some money and have a normal job. I always liked helping people, and this makes me feel I’m doing something generous. In my life in Eritrea, I was helping people with financial issues, but I wasn’t doing anything to motivate people to do what they need.

As a psychosocial counselor, I am a co-facilitator for the weekly minor’s group counseling sessions. In order to work effectively with children, we adapted the 10-week group counseling cycle that CVT uses with adult groups, modifying it as an eight-week cycle for children. To help young people become comfortable with this kind of session, we spend time at first on preparation. We talk to them about the materials and activities we use in the sessions: painting or dance, for example. And we let them know the rules of the group; in order to understand each other, they must be respectful in the group. The children get to know each other and begin to participate as they become comfortable.

There are difficult moments for these children, especially if they have had a traumatic experience like torture. They have many symptoms as a result. They may think suicidal thoughts. We help them process their feelings, and we talk openly about suicidal thoughts and sadness. We teach them the causes of their sadness and clarify its symptoms. After they have had some support, we ask them to talk to us: what they think, what they feel, what are their behaviors, what might they do? As counselors, we know that they might try suicide. But we teach them how to cope and give them tools they can use to manage their feelings.

As an example, we give them exercises. We ask them to monitor their activities and emotions and to tell their best friend or loved ones what they’re feeling. They can tell a caretaker or a teacher. Or they can come to CVT to seek safety. We are here. We often have them paint what they feel and what they think. We show them many activities, things like stretching their bodies, giving them examples they can use on their own or with us, explaining that these are things they can do anytime outside of the group sessions to help with stress.

And we try to give them joyful activities. We do joyful dancing with them and grounding activities. We have an exercise called the Mosquito where the children making a buzzzz-ing noise and then clap. We have them work on stretching with their upper body, leaning left, leaning right and then clapping. We show them how joyful this can be. We also do cultural dancing. There is always a reason for it. We have the children show us how we can dance with them – we let them do the kind of dance they want. Then, we are all dancing to the same beat.

I also do intake assessments as well as psychoeducation and sensitization events, where we meet with the refugee community in the camp and provide education about CVT’s rehabilitative care. I’m the youngest of the PSCs, so I’m happy to work with the younger clients. I want to participate in the adult sessions, too, in the future. I need to get more experience because there are different challenges and techniques with adults.

I’m really motivated here at CVT. Really motivated. This comes from my background and my family, who were always motivated to be generous and help people. Now that I am with CVT, I am more of a good person. I am really happy to work with my society, my community. I feel this is my opportunity to serve them – with the low incentive salary allowed for Eritreans in Ethiopia, I do it just to help. It’s like being a volunteer. The amount of money is not much, but it’s good to be of service.

I’m a really hopeful person. I see hope when I see the children playing with their friends, playing football, being with their peers. I work harder here than I did in the past. It’s important to me to help those who have been through trauma to understand their life here, to give them a break from the problems they face.

CVT is very helpful to my community. It is the best organization in the camp – it gives them recovery. It’s been helpful for me, not only for my people. My mother was a CVT client, before I applied here. She was well recovered; she is in a good state now.

I’ve had the opportunity personally through my work as a psychosocial counselor as we engage clients in therapy and in playing, joking – these things have helped me. Because of my work healing survivors, I’m recovered.

This is CVT’s work.

CVT’s work with Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia is funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

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