Missionaries supporting war-affected populations with psycho-social and spiritual help

08 December 2016 – The current three-year old conflict in South Sudan has forced more than 2.3 million people to flee their homes, including 1.66 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and over 645,000 refugees. The entire population is suffering because of this ongoing conflict that has left most people deeply traumatised. Among other needs, war-affected populations need psycho-social and spiritual help to mitigate the effects of war traumas and to enable them to move on with their lives.

Fr. Solomon and youth at trauma healing session, Nyal – Photo: Y. Solomon

Fr. Yacob Solomon is a Comboni Missionary who has been evangelising together with other missionaries in a far remote area of South Sudan. Every day the community they serve welcomes dozens of displaced people who are fleeing conflict in other areas of their parish. They are men, women and children who have lost their cattle and other belongings, and even family members, and have been forced by recent violence to flee their homes carrying only the clothes they had on. They look desperately for safety, food and shelter and become a huge population of traumatized people. Providing relief to them at this stage is crucial to help them move forward.

Psycho-social and spiritual support to war-affected communities is part of the church ministry and Fr. Yacob Solomon has been engaged with trauma healing activities in recent years, especially among young people. Fr. Solomon said that “the youth living in this situation know well that their future is blocked and they feel they will not be able to change what is happening. Their chances of continuing school, to choose a career, to plan to have a family are fading away… Some of them are driven into the state of hopelessness and complete darkness whereby they do what seems unthinkable with no sense of responsibility. The rest of the community keeps pushing on every day with a hard and unpredictable ending”.

He further explained that “the number of youth who have joined the club of drinkers is on increase. There are some new behaviours arising among the war-affected youth. Some of them, who used to be social and friendly, suddenly ran off the social circle and from a healthy environment where youth spend quality time together. They prefer to walk and to be on their own. They react badly to anyone who dares to disturb their lonely state. Some have chosen to engage in untimed marriage and just a few months later asked for divorce. They seem to have no sense of direction”. All this indicates the deep level of trauma people are enduring.

Working as a young missionary among a war-traumatised community, with a massive presence of youth, inspired Fr. Solomon to think that he could help them by offering some psycho-social and spiritual support. He went on and organised some trauma healing activities, including the training of grassroots church leaders to help their communities. Recently Fr. Solomon conducted a three-day trauma healing training which involved directly over 200 people. The aim was to empower grassroots church leaders to help their communities to deal with the effects of traumas by applying a simple and holistic approach.

Trauma healing for children, Nyal – Photo: Y. Solomon

Trauma healing sections compromised of trauma release exercises intertwined with moments of prayers and teaching about the gospel values of compassion and mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, unity and healing itself were conducted over the training period. “These activities are very important because they are helping people to learn how to deal with their traumas and to overcome their traumatic situations or being able to adjust their way of dealing with the pains and frustrations they are going through. It is also a unique opportunity for many of them to learn how to let go the painful past and make a new beginning”, added the missionary priest.

The three-day trauma healing programme began with the formation of a team which is comprised of ten members. They made plans to reach out more people in different communities, including trauma healing activities for children. “We gathered one hundred and twenty-four children and had one-day trauma healing programme for them. We used drama and skit made by some of the team members and some of the children, which carries the message of how to get healed from trauma. We also involved some of the teachers so as to continue some of the activities as a part of their teaching. It was concluded with a song composed by one of the facilitators, which calls for unity and forgiveness”, informed Fr. Solomon.

Besides this, a four-day trauma healing programme was organised for sixty-eight young people. They have learned what trauma is, its causes, symptoms, consequences and how to deal with post-traumatic stress disorders. They drew insights from the healing ministry of Jesus and used a healing and recovery holistic process that involves integration on the levels of body, mind, spirit and emotions. The sessions were simple to follow and took into consideration people’s cultural and traditional world-view. The groups also made use of some Bible quotations with a message of hope to give more support to those who are feeling hopeless and unable to deal with their traumatic situation.

According to Fr. Solomon, the feedback of the participants was positive and most of them have expressed the joy of having this opportunity to know more about trauma and develop skills to deal with their traumatic situation. “We see some positive aspects among them, not all is lost. We have hoped that as time goes by things will change positively and they will regain confidence and get back on the right track. In this way, we feel we are carrying out different formal and informal activities to keep their hope alive”, concluded the priest.

Fr. Yacob Solomon is one of the many missionaries, men and women, spread across South Sudan who have set home among war-displaced communities and remain close to them despite the harsh and insecure environment. Such brave evangelisers live out the values of solidarity and compassion in a very concrete way and become a sign of hope for the tens of thousands of often forgotten victims of war and conflicts in the worlds’ youngest nation.

Children at trauma healing session in Nyal, S. Sudan – Photo: Y. Solomon