Our mother continent has been going through periods of violence – from the slave trade, to colonialism, to civil wars. Like slavery, civil wars have uprooted our people from their ancestral homes and transplanted them in foreign countries like here in the United States.
While finding refuge in unfamiliar lands is a good thing for those fleeing persecution, it is by no means the end of war. It is, in fact, the beginning of a fight with trauma – a war as lethal as one with weapons. To assist those in our community deal with post-war distress get help, the Center for Victims of Torture will provide Mshale with monthly informational articles. We urge those among us who can read English to, please, translate this and other health-related articles to our brothers and sisters who might not have the skills to comprehend this important information.
Mariam thought she would be able to sleep at night once she joined her family in Minneapolis. Because her African community in Minnesota is large, she thought she would feel better when she could buy familiar food and speak her language often.
She moved to Minnesota and was embraced by her family as she began to rebuild her life. She studied English and found work.
But dreams about her imprisonment and war experiences did not go away.
Mariam represents many African refugees who are coming to Minnesota, often from war-torn countries. They are frequently victims of brutal actions by armies, clans and gangs or witnesses to war violence.
But people can and do move past these traumatic experiences to live fulfilling lives.
This is the first in a series of health columns from the Center for Victims of Torture that will provide health information to help survivors of war and their families deal with trauma and manage their stress in order to lead more fulfilling lives.
CVT is a unique organization that helps torture survivors heal while building their lives in a country that can seem strange and difficult. Founded in 1985, CVT has worked with people from 67 countries around the world. The organization helps torture survivors recover from the trauma, and trains refugee leaders and health and human services workers to work with survivors living in our communities.
CVT recognizes that war trauma and torture affects everyone in the refugee community. It harms not just the individual, but family, friends and community members.
Even in a new country, many people continue to suffer because of experiences they did not deserve. Personal stress and emotional pain can cause physical aches and pains. Survivors may act differently than they did before the war because of the horrible things that happened to them. They might be excessively tired or quick to anger. Children of survivors can be angry or withdrawn. Married couples may find it hard to talk. Families often suffer in silence.
But anyone who has suffered a lot deserves help so they can feel better. It can take time and support to heal.
Future articles will provide activities and exercises to reduce stress, increase energy and encourage emotional health. Readers will learn about the stages of grief and ways to adapt to a new culture. Rebuilding a life in a new country can cause a mix of emotions, including joy and sorrow, and this information will help with the adjustment.
Understanding the emotional affects of war and violence helps individuals heal, and contributes to rebuilding trust, community and leadership.
All people who have experienced terrible events need time for healing. Some might recover in a relatively short amount of time. For others, the recovery process might take years.
These columns will offer useful information to those who have survived traumatic experiences. By finding ways to address worry and sadness, people from war-torn countries can begin to heal and live happier, more rewarding lives.
Holly Ziemer is the director of communications the Center for Victims of Torture. The organization provides healing services to help torture survivors recover from their experiences. For more information, visit www.cvt.org or call 612-436-4800.