Former GES counselor Scindie writes about her experience equipping the students and staff at Grace Emmanuel School in dealing with trauma
The normally peaceful community of Source Matelas, where more than half of GES students live, has recently witnessed horrors it could not have even imagined six months ago. Many of the students had never seen a gun, met a gang member, or even witnessed someone dying, but on November 29, they saw their relatives assassinated, their close ones mutilated, and their entire lives vandalized right before their eyes.
The rest of us can try to sympathize with the horror this dear community experienced that night, but we cannot truly feel what it was like to see their safe space being destroyed in one night.
Listening to their stories
On Wednesday, March 1, I visited Grace Emmanuel School to lead a training for students and staff on how to cope with traumatic events. I planned to share about the symptoms of trauma and teach the students how to build a wellness plan.
Over 200 students gathered under the church for the training. At first they were just happy to see a familiar face, so I sped through introductions and got directly to the content.
I began by defining stress as a seemingly overwhelming experience or event. I then asked the students to connect this definition with some of the recent incidents that happened.
Unexpectedly, the students began to shout out their experiences.
“I lost my cousin.”
“They killed my uncle.”
“I saw my house burn.”
“I watched my neighbor get shot.”
Nearly everyone raised their voice to express the horrors they had witnessed in November, hoping to be heard and understood.
After the voices quieted, I moved on to present the most common symptoms related to PTSD. By being aware of these symptoms, teachers can better understand students, students can understand teachers, and students can understand fellow students, because many have experienced the same terror and are affected by the same issues. The effects of trauma can be profound and lasting, and they must learn how to be present for each other. I wanted to strengthen their connections and relationships by promoting understanding so they can develop empathy for others.
As I introduced the physical, emotional, psychological, behavioral, and cognitive symptoms, the children nodded in accordance with what had just been shown, indicating that they had experienced the things mentioned on each slide. The symptoms that seemed to have the most reactions were flashbacks, avoidance, emotional numbness, anxiety, depression, headaches, fatigue, muscle tension, thinking patterns, alcohol consumption and trouble concentrating.
Finally, I ended the session with a presentation on how to create a wellness plan, where students learn to build resiliency through activities for physical, social, emotional, and spiritual care.
After the presentation, teachers and students alike reported satisfaction in having their feelings and emotions acknowledged. They were thankful to have learned about positive skills that will help them cope with life’s challenges in the future. Private questions addressed to me after the presentation reflected the immensity of the terror, with different students experiencing suicidal thoughts, the feeling of not being alive (dissociation), and helplessness.
Where could we go from here?
After this initial training, the next step could be forming small groups to continue the conversation, because many students have a lot to unpack and need a safe place to lay down overwhelming feelings and learn to better understand their experiences and perspectives of others.
Children are particularly vulnerable to trauma as they have not yet developed the skills needed to cope with stressful events. By educating children about mental health, we can prevent further mental health disorders, and encourage children to seek help when needed. Children can also learn positive coping skills, such as stress management, problem solving, communication and self-confidence, which can help them cope with life’s challenges in an effective and healthy way.
I’m thankful to have been able to share positive strategies with the students at Grace Emmanuel School, as well as just to be a witness to their pain. Please continue to pray for positive interactions for the students and staff to cope with the trauma they have experienced—and will likely continue to experience.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4