21 April 2015
NIGERIA: Boko Haram trauma survivors discover ways to
heal each other
by Peggy Gish
[Note: CPTer Peggy Gish is currently working on a crisis
team for the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria.
The following piece has been adapted for CPTnet. The original is available on
“When I came home
after escaping the attack, our home had been bombed, and everything was
destroyed,” one woman said.
“I was away when Boko Haram attacked my village,” a man
voiced with regret. ”I still feel horrible that my wife had to face it
and flee alone.”
“Everyone else in my village fled when Boko Haram came. I
was the only one who stayed, and miraculously, I was not found and killed,” a
third said, expressing his gratitude.
“I ran home when our church was attacked,” another shared.
“My husband was at home and was able to go in the car to the next village. When
he called me, I told him to go ahead and escape. He answered, ‘I will wait for
you to find me. We will stay together, and if we die, we will die together.’”
Heartbreaking stories flowed out from the group gathered at
a trauma healing workshop in Yola, in early April 2015, sponsored by the crisis
team of EYN (Nigerian Brethren Church) for members now living in displacement
camps or crowded in relatives’ homes. This was one of many such workshops to
help members support each other in the process of healing from the violence of
Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. And additional people are receiving
training so that more of the estimated 200,000 – 600,000 EYN members affected
by trauma can be included.
No one had expectations that these three days of meeting
together and sharing would bring any quick fix, or that the training would take
care of more intense traumas that called for more intensive pastoral or
psychological counseling. The sessions give a framework for understanding how
trauma affects them and others, and helps them choose positive ways of dealing
with the emotions connected with trauma and open themselves to healing. The
program aims to prevent the cycle of violence and trauma from continuing,
because when trauma is not dealt with, those who have been traumatized, in
turn, can perpetrate violence and traumatize others.
Especially moving was an exercise called, “circle of hands.”
One by one, in the circle, each person said, “I love this family; I wish this
family____” and filled in the blank with something, such as, ”hope,” “healing,”
or “strength.” After his or her statement, the person put her closed hand in
the circle and around the prior person’s thumb, holding out her thumb for the
next one to take. The result was a circle of hands joined together, symbolic of
the strength and beauty they and others who have just experienced great trauma can
give as they walk together through this difficult time, within a community of
love and support.