Libyan Red Crescent uses play to restore a little bit of normality after the conflict

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2011 was a dramatic, and traumatic year for the people of Libya, making the deployment of psychosocial support one of the most important aspects of the National Society’s work. Post-traumatic stress is one of the most significant outcome of conflicts. Each person who has experienced a threat to their - or a loved one’s - life is likely to be affected; as will those who have lost all their belongings, homes and means of subsistence. These are fundamental needs of human beings.

The consequences of post-traumatic stress can be dramatic: nervous breakdown; chronic insomnia; recurring nightmares; flashbacks of traumatic scenes; loss of ability to concentrate or to make future plans; reclusive, aggressive and unpredictable behaviour; weakened immune system; liver and kidney problems; heart attack; or diabetes. The result is the many people are incapable of working, planning for the future or building and maintaining good relationships. In other words, the option to lead a normal, fulfilling life is denied. It is therefore of primary importance to provide psychosocial support to who may be subject to post-traumatic stress, or face seeing many lives psychologically destroyed and wasted. Volunteers at the Libyan Red Crescent were in the frontlines during the worst of the fighting and so have increased chances of post-traumatic stress and many of its complications.

Further to the Appeal launched by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the Palestinian, Italian and Danish National Societies have offered to provide psychosocial support.

They sent Bassam Marshoud, a psychologist from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society who specializes in dealing with post-traumatic stress and in providing training in psychosocial support, which he practiced and developed at length and in depth during the Palestinian conflict. Marshoud came in with two objectives: provide psychological support to volunteers, while developing and providing a ‘Training the Trainer’ programme in post-conflict psychosocial support. The content of this programme is based on the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy specialized in post-traumatic/post-conflict stress syndrome, but it can also be used by persons who do not come from a psychosocial background.

However, in a country fresh out of a conflict - where political as well as institutional systems are struggling to function - and within a National Society also having to rebuild its structures and rehabilitate its own staff, implementing such programme is not an easy task. Support is sometimes available, but one of the basic principles of effective psychosocial support is to be regular and reliable to start rebuilding the lost sense of security.

In addition, beneficiaries themselves, including volunteers, are difficult to mobilise due to the effects of post-traumatic stress. Mr Marshoud does not give up, despite the size of the challenge he is facing.

Within a year, thanks to the Training the Trainers approach, Marshoud’s aim is to have two teams trained to provide psychosocial support. One group of 450 ex-detainees will work with other detainees, while 650 people will be trained to work with communities and individuals. A further five professional psychologists or social workers will be hired to coordinate the entire psychosocial programme.

Psychosocial support can sometimes appear to be impossibly complicated, and other incredibly simple. For one group of children in Libya, their support required a sheep, a song, a dance and a bit of drawing; things that are more or less within everyone’s reach.

Playground activities, although they seem basic, can have much more importance than they at first seem. They may, for example, provide the impression of a return to normality, and this is an important part of psychosocial support, particularly concerning children. Drawing, specifically, is a roundabout but efficient way to let out emotions and discuss fears that, if not aired, can lead to profound psychological disturbances later on.