Last week, I wrote about South Sudan and the whole concept of "When Helping Hurts," which is the name of an excellent book written about how Christian churches can help and not hurt when giving to countries and programs. The whole premise of the book is to help people feel their dignity. The authors, Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert, John Perkins and David Platt, have had vast experience with aid.
I wish they would come to South Sudan right now, because the big challenge is how to give people a sense of personal dignity. War ended with the North in South Sudan in 2005. South Sudan became an independent country in 2011, and then in December 2013, a civil war broke out between the current president and his fired vice president, Reik Machar. The United Nations estimates approximately 10,000 people have died. Almost two million people have been "internally displaced," meaning that they had to leave their homes and move to "IDP camps," which is the term for internally displaced people.
There is immense fallout from the war that ended in 2005 and the current conflict, most of which took place in December 2013 and January 2014. It is a traumatized country. We have been working with student nurses, and we thought to ask them about what they had seen and been through. Of the five student nurses we asked, all of them had family members and friends killed. Three male students had each seen at least five people shot. The very problem with trauma is that little triggers make the person re-experience trauma. It can be something as simple as a mango falling on a tin roof. It sounds like a gunshot and, if heard at night, can terrify the person sleeping.
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Dr. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart coined the term "historical trauma." It is the "collective emotional and psychological injury both over the life span and across the generations, resulting from a cataclysmic history of genocide." The effects, she says, are unsettled emotional trauma and internalized oppression. The "self-hatred" can be internalized or externalized.
Dr. Brave Heart has worked on the issue of war and trauma for years. She has done a lot of work on "historical trauma." The United States as a whole experienced "historical trauma" after the Civil War, and it took more than a generation to recover. The Native Americans alive now have not recovered, as they have continued to be marginalized. We have much to learn about collective trauma from these experiences.
Dr. Brave Heart also says, "Historical unresolved grief is from the historical trauma of genocide, grief that has not been expressed, acknowledged and resolved. Like trauma, it can span across generations."
South Sudan's citizens have been so traumatized that the effects on its leaders has been minimized. This week an agreement was supposed to be reached in Addis Abba for power sharing between the rival factions in South Sudan. As of this writing, there is no agreement. How much of the lack of ability to agree, to find a win-win for themselves and the country, is the result of years of war and fighting by the two major leaders? We will never know, the leaders are not about to get help for their trauma which most likely has resulted in post-traumatic stress.
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Trauma can result from a lack of trust and avoidance as well as alcohol and substance abuse. This could be one of the underlying issues that's making reaching a peace agreement difficult. But the individuals in South Sudan can't wait for the leaders to work through their post-traumatic stress problems. They need to take care of their own problems.
The student nurses, the school teachers and all the others in the helping community have to attend to their own pain, or else they will not be able to get outside of themselves to be available emotionally for others, be it family members or students or patients. Historical trauma can be just as traumatic as seeing war as a soldier or being abused as child. Peace at someone's home, within one's self and within a whole country depend on recovery from it.
Media wishing to interview Ellen Ratner, please contact [email protected].