Children Running in Circle
Iraq – December 12 2019

SOS counsellors help Iraqi children to heal

Whenever Delal recalls the horror of fleeing fighting in Iraq, the 12-year-old closes her eyes and imagines she and her family are in a green garden full of colourful roses. 

She goes to this imaginary place to cope with the memories of the day she and her family escaped an attack on their village in the Sinjar Mountain. They trekked in sweltering heat for seven days with no food and drank from the cap of the only bottle of water they had to conserve water. Sometimes they came upon fighters who shot at them. 

Delal learned how to imagine her safe space from SOS counsellors based in the camp for internally displaced people in Dohuk, in northern Iraq, where Delal lives. The counsellors are teaching children ways to face their fears when they have flashbacks.  

“I saw the fighters in the mountains. Now when I see someone with a beard, I get afraid,” said Delal. “But in the SOS centre, they explained to us that not all the people with beards are mean.” 

The camp is home to 6,600 children who have fled violence, and SOS is the only organisation there providing comprehensive mental health support for children and adults – helping them recognise and overcome trauma. 

Since launching the programme in September 2016, the SOS team has helped more than 1,500 children and 1,300 adults, as well as indirectly impacting nearly 150,000 other individuals.  

The programme has been particularly successful because it uses dedicated local counsellors who understand the cultural background of the people they help – like SOS counsellor Guhdar Younis Omer. 

Not all children and parents are at a stage where they are ready to confront the traumatising events they have experienced, Guhdar told us.  

“We sometimes face difficulties with parents who don’t tell us about their children’s unusual behaviours because they are afraid that they will be judged. In some traditional communities here, it is taboo to talk about psychological problems,” he explained. 

Delal’s four cousins also joined the programme, and they are all are coping better now they have completed the counselling course. They can recognise when their fear is overcoming them and ask for help, and they are now able to talk about their experiences with their families and friends and express their feelings.  

When they don’t have school, the cousins go to the Child Friendly Space that SOS opened inside the camp, where they play games designed by the team to complement their therapy sessions.

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