Yemen

The Need For Psychological Support During Times Of Conflict

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Abdul Kareem Al-Nahari Published:23-01-2012

Professor Salah Al-Din Ahmed Al-Juma’ee, a psychological consultant at Sana'a University, has warned that Yemeni children in the range of recent armed conflict have sustained psychological trauma, including extreme fears and phobias.

Armed conflicts take their toll on children’s lives. This is especially true during early childhood years, which should be a time of growth. As a result of exposure to armed conflict, children develop an inability to think clearly, as well as a lack of confidence in themselves and a mistrust of others. They will constantly feel that they are living in an unsafe world as a result of the violence they have witnessed. They may also resort to aggressive behavior and acts of sabotage and violence as part of a psychopathic and antagonistic personality that doesn't observe laws or regulations.

Al-Juma’ee called upon warring factions to spare children, schools and universities from all types of conflict and to foster education rather than adopt policies of intentional ignorance through the closing of schools and universities.

Yemen has witnessed increased violence since the start of the uprising against Saleh’s regime. Before that, North Yemen had witnessed six wars in Sa'ada between Houthi insurgents and government forces. In Abyan in the south, violent clashes between suspected Al-Qaeda militants and the army have taken place since last May.

In the capital itself, people have experienced long nights of horror as a direct result of confrontations between militants loyal to tribal sheikh Sadiq Al-Ahmar and government forces. In addition, battles have taken place between opposition-aligned and government-aligned military forces.

Al-Juma’ee stated that the psychological effects of such conflicts can produce a “scarred” generation. He added that such children can be treated, but that such efforts can take years. Even then, children may not be able to shed all such damage, as the destructive bearing on children varies in degree and severity. “There should be a curriculum in place that responds to such cases, and psychological support should be synchronized with health and physical support. Specialized centers should be established to provide psychological guidance and to prepare and maintain files for cases.”

A number of organizations are working on social projects to help people in conflict areas adapt to and recover from the emotional effects of war. This month, the Yemen Red Crescent launched the Psychological and Social Support in Armed Conflict Areas program. The program is intended to help children and emergency workers who operate in conflict areas deal with resulting ill effects and trauma.

Mohammed Al-Faqih, an officer in charge of improving social health and a coordinator of psycho-social support at the Yemen Red Crescent (YRCS), told the Yemen Times that the program is part of an approach adopted by the organization “to alleviate the emotional pressure suffered by children as well as by workers, volunteers and others operating or living in conflict zones who have been affected by armed clashes and the impacts of the political crisis that has devastated the country since early 2011.”

In Sana’a, people have experienced long nights of horror as a direct result of confrontations between militants loyal to tribal sheikh Sadiq Al-Ahmar and government forces. Photo by Garnet Roach Al-Faqih adds that the program is a part of other psychological and social programs run by YRCS in collaboration with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, with support from the Norwegian Red Cross Organization. The program focuses on opening psychological support rooms at YRCS branches in various governorates and at a number of schools. The rooms are equipped with tools and toys intended to assist in dealing with emotional pressure.

“In its first phase,” Al-Faqih said, “the program opened 12 support rooms, five of which are located at the organization’s branches in Sana'a, Taiz, Aden, Dhamar and Ibb. Meanwhile, similar rooms were opened at seven selected schools in Sana'a, Taiz, Aden and Ibb in coordination with the Ministry of Education.”

According to a YRCS officer, the organization has begun providing relevant training to volunteers at its branches as well as social workers at selected schools.

Al-Faqih said that YRCS management will work to further develop the program and broaden the range of target groups, as the program is a high priority for children who have developed psychological problems and tension because of their families, the society or media.

“The decision to equip support rooms at YRCS branches with sports gear and toys came after lists submitted by psychological support specialists were received,” said Al-Faqih. “Meanwhile, rooms at schools were designed according to standards set by Save the Children, a Swedish organization. The children here will practice their favorite pastimes, including painting; their paintings will be analyzed and they will receive suitable psychological support.”

On Tuesday, January 3, with Dhamar YRCS chairman Dr. Abdul Salam Al-Ahsab and representatives from Sana'a's head office in attendance, Dhamar's branch introduced a support room. The room contains sports equipment, projectors and other support apparatus.