On our first day of teacher training an expert on trauma came to talk about PTSD. In a refugee camp such as the one we are in, most of the population has been traumatized, including the teachers. In a classroom with 100 traumatized students there are bound to be behavior issues. What the facilitator told them opened their eyes to the signs of trauma which some of them recognized, not only in their students’ lives, but also their own. They were riveted to their seats because the content was incredibly relevant to their situation personally and professionally.
He also told them, just as the law of gravity works in every country in the same way, no matter who you are or what you do, so too does the law of trauma. It seemed to me, as I watched the teachers, I could SEE the lightbulb go on. Relief crossed their faces as they realized trauma is a real thing, and that it can disrupt life in numerous ways. The training gave them a name for the disruptions they experience. The ongoing nightmares and sleep disruptions, the unwanted memories, the fear of bad things happening again, triggers which bring up past events…all are a result of trauma. They learned that their students’ difficulties like paying attention, or clinging, withdrawn, and angry behaviors, as well as fearfulness, whining, or regression are all a result of the traumas they have experienced. It was an amazing session to give them hope right from the beginning, before the “educational” part of the conference even began.
When they heard that part of the healing process is talking about the trauma, three of them were brave enough to share their stories with the group. It was a Holy moment as three men, opened up and shared their pain. No, we weren’t in a church, but heaven came down and touched Earth. There is something extremely intimate and raw about seeing someone’s broken pieces. The scars were evident in their emotional words. Their serious eyes betrayed that they were not telling us every gory detail, however, what they did say opened the door for their shared experiences as fellow refugees and bonded them.
One man shared of a family member shot and nearly dead. The man took his family member to the doctor for treatment and the doctor, because he worked for the government could not help. The man went and got the things he needed to try to take care of his family member at home. It took many weeks, and many friends helping to care for him, but healing was slowly happening. Then one of the ones who had been helping with treating the wounds, walked in and shot the very person he had been helping. As the man told the story, he was obviously still visibly shaken by the events and how one who is supposedly your friend and commit such a terrible betrayal.
Another young man shared his story of leaving his brothers behind in South Sudan and being told by his family “You’ll survive.” His journey was filled with drama of being stopped by both the army and the rebels along the way. He had guns pointed at him, knives pulled on him, and miracle after miracle of getting out of dangerous places alive. Each time he told them, if you kill me you kill me, but then some intervention happened before the trigger was pulled. Many told him along his way, “You’ll survive” and he did. Now he is a teacher of students who have survived similar circumstances, many of whom lost their families in the war or on the way to Uganda.
The word floating through my mind was holy, holy, holy. Over and over, story after story, pain upon pain and my heart was crying out holy, holy, holy. These men, never having heard that trauma can disrupt their lives, were so very grateful to pour out their suffering and to begin the healing.
Many raised their hands when asked if they wanted to start the process, which includes forgiveness of their enemies. After what I heard, that is a tall order. How could they forgive such horrible things? One teacher said that if he wants to teach peace he has to first live it. The recognition that peace begins in each individual heart was hard to swallow for some of them, but the possibility of freedom from pain was motivation enough for several of them to ask to continue the long process of healing.
“I never knew I was traumatized. I didn’t know that my students were either. I am glad I came just to find this out.”