Zambia – October 22 2019

Joanna's story: Counselling children through grief

Joanna has been an SOS social worker at our village community in Kitwe, northern Zambia, for five years. She helps children who have lost their parents speak about their traumatic experiences and begin to heal.  

Often when children come to live with their new SOS families, they are still recovering from terrible grief, loss or trauma. Our social workers and counsellors like Joanna make sure they receive the individual emotional support they need.  

“I always start by going to the family house and asking the child to show me their toys,” Joanna told us. “I ask them to draw something of their choice. If the child has suffered a traumatic experience, I can pick out and interpret concerning issues from the drawings. 
 
“Traumatised children have certain mannerisms. They cannot sleep, they scream at night, they isolate themselves from others. Often, they will wet the bed at a mature age. Sometimes they can’t express themselves, so they point at what they want instead of speaking out loud, or they use head or hand gestures.  

“I remind their SOS mother to be patient and that it will take time for the child to come out of their shell.” 

Every child reacts to trauma differently, but Joana says it usually takes a child about three months to trust her enough to be open about their feelings.  

“I find boys continue to wet the bed longer than girls, but they often open-up more easily than girls do,” she explains.  

“Most children only need counselling for a short time, and then they are settled and happy with their SOS families. But if a child is still struggling, or I think they need a different type of specialist help, I seek support from one of my partners with a different field of expertise. Whatever works best for the child. 

“It is the most fulfilling job. When I see young people who have grown up at the village going on to become successful in their lives, it makes me so happy. Looking at their background, and seeing what they have had to overcome, confirms to me that my work here is worthwhile.” 

At our SOS village community in Kitwe, northern Zambia, sixteen SOS families are giving children who have lost their parents the chance to grow up in a stable environment where they feel safe, loved and supported.  

The need for our support is high in the Kitwe district, with an estimated 100,000 children at risk of losing their parents. In the downtown areas, parentless children have formed gangs to keep themselves safer living on the streets. Socially marginalised, most find it difficult to reintegrate into society as adults.  

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