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Iraq: Sharing experiences to rebuild confidence


In Iraq, Handicap International runs psychosocial support sessions for people affected by the current crisis, many of whom have been displaced from their homes. In Kirkuk governorate, the organization runs regular group sessions to help people overcome trauma related to the conflict.

A psychosocial support group session in Bawa, helps a group of men to cope with and share the traumatic events they have lived while fleeing the conflict.

A psychosocial support group session in Bawa, helps a group of men to cope with and share the traumatic events they have lived while fleeing the conflict. | © Elisa Fourt / Handicap International

A dozen men are sitting and talking in a makeshift concrete shelter, in the middle of a field. At first glance, they look like a group of local officials. But as the men open up, it’s obvious they’re not discussing regional affairs. This meeting is about hope, fear and everyday problems.

Encouraged by Handicap International, the men are here to express and share their feelings. As the crisis continues to drag on, psychosocial support is one of the organization’s top priorities.

"If you ignore psychological distress, it just gets worse"

“The people we help are often depressed. They’ve lost all hope in the future. They’ve been displaced, their homes have been destroyed, they’ve had traumatic experiences, and, as a result, their mental well-being is critical,” explains Jérémie Zahorski, Handicap International’s Field Coordinator in the governorate.

“If you ignore psychological distress, it just gets worse. Few humanitarian actors provide psychosocial support in Kirkuk. That’s why our work is so important.”

The people who come to these groups are generally expected to attend several sessions on different topics, such disability, violence, dreams, hopes and the problems people face when they have to start their lives again in a new place.

All the men in today's session were displaced from their homes after they fled the fighting in their area and sought refuge in the neighboring governorate. They begin the session by discussing their lives with Handicap International’s psychosocial workers, Chino and Schwan, who listen carefully as the men talk about their problems and explain how important the support of family, friends and the organization is to them.

Chino and Schwan organize various activities to help the men put their emotions into words and to share them with others. Everyone plays an active role in the exercises. The psychosocial workers have won the men’s trust and they now feel comfortable sharing their experiences.

Group relaxation to reduce anxiety

Before the session ends, Schwan organizes a relaxation exercise. The goal is to help the men feel calmer and less anxious. Over the course of the sessions, this mental exercise also brings them physical relief and a greater sense of well-being.

Lying on the ground, their eyes closed, they listen to Schwan’s voice and lose themselves in their thoughts. For a few minutes, they forget the fact that they’ve been displaced from their homes and the many hardships they face daily. They focus instead on the present moment and relax. Some even sigh as they let themselves go.

The session ends and the men gently open their eyes again. It’s time for them to leave. Some say they’re already looking forward to the next session. Since it launched its emergency response in Iraq in 2014, Handicap International has enabled nearly 2,000 people to benefit from similar psychosocial support sessions.

Date published: 06/22/16


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