Sharing experiences to rebuild confidence
In Iraq, Handicap International runs psychosocial support sessions for people affected by the crisis, many of whom have been displaced from their homes. In Kirkuk governorate, the organization runs regular group sessions to help them overcome theirs traumas related to the conflict.
This psychosocial support group session, which took place in Bawa, aims at helping these men to cope with the traumatic events they have lived through while fleeing the conflict, as well as to rebuild their ability to communicate with others. | © Elisa Fourt / Handicap International
A dozen men are sitting and talking in a makeshift concrete shelter, in the middle of a field. At first glance, they look like a group of local officials. But as the men open up, it’s obvious they’re not discussing regional affairs. This meeting is about hope, fear and everyday problems. Encouraged by Handicap International, the men are here to express and share their feelings. As the crisis continues to drag on, psychosocial support is one of the organization’s top priorities: “The people we help are often depressed. They’ve lost all hope in the future. They’ve been displaced, their homes have been destroyed, they’ve had traumatic experiences, and, as a result, their mental well-being is critical,” explains Jérémie Zahorski, Handicap International’s Field Coordinator in the governorate. “If you ignore psychological distress, it just gets worse. Few humanitarian actors provide psychosocial support in Kirkuk. That’s why our work is so important.”
The people who come to these groups are generally expected to attend several sessions on different topics, such as disability, violence, dreams, hopes and the problems people face when they have to start their lives again in a new place. All ten men were displaced from their homes after they fled the fighting in their region and sought refuge in the neighbouring governorate. They begin the session by discussing their lives with Handicap International’s team of psychosocial workers, Chino and Schwan. The team listens carefully as the men talk about their problems and explain how important the support of family, friends and the organization is to them.
Chino and Schwan organize various activities to help the men put their emotions into words and to share them with others. Everyone plays an active role in the exercises. The psychosocial workers have won the men’s trust and they feel comfortable sharing their experiences.
Before the session ends, Schwan organises a relaxation exercise. The goal is to help the men feel calmer and less anxious. Over the course of the sessions, this mental exercise also brings them physical relief and a greater sense of well-being. Lying on the ground, their eyes closed, they listen to Schwan’s voice and lose themselves in their thoughts. For a few minutes, they forget the fact that they’ve been displaced from their homes and the many hardships they face daily. They focus instead on the present moment and relax. Some even sigh, a sign that they have let themselves go.
The session ends and the men gently open their eyes again. It’s time for them to go. Some say they’re already looking forward to the next session. Since it launched its emergency response in Iraq in 2014, Handicap International has enabled nearly 2,000 people, including these men, to benefit from psychosocial support sessions.