After an intensive training on psychosocial support, teachers in Borno say they are better equipped to tackle anxiety and trauma in children.
Folashade Adebayo, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria
She had written them off as uncooperative and difficult children. But after Talatu Maidoki, a teacher at the Kamsulum Junior Secondary School in Maiduguri, Borno State in north-east Nigeria attended a psychosocial training, her views on three children in her class changed.
“I had thought that people who are stressed or traumatized are mentally challenged,’’ said Maidoki, who has been a teacher for 10 years.
“Before, the training, I did not know that it also had to do with feelings and emotions. Now I understand why these children burst out crying each time I ask them to respond to questions in class. They are certainly going through anxiety. I have learned the symptoms of stress and trauma and I can identify the signs now. Once we resume school, I will apply the knowledge from this training and support these children,’’ said Maidoki.
Maidoki is one of 738 teachers from 18 primary and junior secondary schools in conflict-affected Maiduguri who recently benefited from a UNICEF-supported psychosocial training funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The six-day training is making schools safer and boosting the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of children in Borno State.
Affected by protracted conflict, displacement, food insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic, children in north-east Nigeria face unique challenges that could affect their behaviour and interpersonal relationships.
Maidugu Mapaji, one of the trainers, said the training has equipped the teachers with skills to provide psychosocial first aid to children.
“Teachers are protectors. I am confident that we have built the capacity of teachers to be resilient and to respond appropriately to truancy, disinterest in learning and other signs of stress that are easily identifiable. Teachers are the second guardians of children and schools are the second home of children, because they spend more time there.
“I am happy the teachers eagerly participated in the activities and games that they will eventually take back to their various schools. They are all excited to go back and step down their new skills to the children,’’ he said.
For Halima Buba, another participant from Mashamari Primary School in Maiduguri, the most memorable time from the training was the story sessions, when she learned how to create narratives using the ‘Bounce Back’ model.
“The model has to do with how adversities are reversed. I can now write stories about characters who faced challenges and overcame them in the end. With this approach, we will be able to tell children that things will get better for them, no matter how difficult things are now,’’ she said.
While Buba wished she had had the training before joining the teaching service 15 years ago, Abdullahi Ahmed, headmaster at the Shehu Sanda Kyarimi Primary School in Maiduguri, said it was better late than never.
“I have over 4,000 children registered in my school. The majority of them are internally displaced after having fled their homes. Some are orphans. I am happy that 50 teachers from my school are here with me, so that we can learn how to support them. I have personally experienced absent-mindedness in children who would just go blank in class. They were probably thinking of the traumatic experiences they have gone through.
“For me, a good take-away from the training is not to interrupt or judge a child based on my personal views. To be honest, I used to be angry when children misbehaved in school. But this training has opened my eyes. This is not an easy environment, even for adults. I am appealing to UNICEF to train other teachers in the villages. It is very useful,’’ he said.