Lia, psychologist, enters a small and dark room at one end of the semi-permanent metal sheet building, which hosts the psychological activities of Nguenyyel camp, in Ethiopia, where 86,000 South Sudanese refugees are living in dire situation.
Thick curtains block the view and give a sense of intimacy. She sat on the floor along with her translator and a 40-year-old woman. Voices are low, almost whispers. The stories that are told in this room are made of violence and fear, painful memories that will not fade away. But with help, the sorrow can be smoothed. The grief will stay but with support, people can achieve acceptance and resilience.
She is one of the three psychologists who works in the psychological distress program, launched by Action Against Hunger in August 2017 in order to address traumatic situation.
Lia has about 30 clients as she calls them. “They are actors of their own recovery. We counsel both children and adults. We see a lot of epilepsy, which is one of the most common post traumatic syndromes. Trauma knocks at every door.”
"All these people have been through a lot of suffering; at home, in South Sudan, on their way to Ethiopia as they fled to save their lives, and here as refugees, which is a painful status"
Camp de Nguenyyel, Ethiopia
Today, her client wants to talk about her 12 years old daughter whom Lia is also counselling. When they were living in South Sudan, the little girl was kidnapped by the Murle tribe at the age of 8. She stayed three years as a slave before being sold to another owner from a different tribe. Eventually, the owner was persuaded by the authorities to return the girl back to her real family.
Unfortunately, on her return she found her mother now lived in the refugee camp, had remarried and learned the sad news that her father had been killed in South Sudan. Her return to this new family was not accepted by her new stepfather and step-uncle. She faced regular abuse and rejection, and one day, whilst her mother was out collecting firewood, her step-uncle and his friends burst into the shelter and raped her. The perpetrators subsequently fled the camp to avoid arrest.
Lia was the first person that the girl told about the rape. She has continued to support and help her including accompanying her to the medical center for treatment and provided on-going counselling support.
The woman sighs and explains that she is also concerned about another of her daughters who had also been abducted for one year by the same group in South Sudan. Since her return to the family, she has been telling her mother repeatedly that during this time they had made her eat snakes and insects.
Thoughts never leave her head. However, she feels lucky; at least her two daughters are back, some parents will never see their children again.
Léa Vollet Communication Officer
Action Against Hunger is implementing Mental Health and Care Practices programs in Ethiopia since 2014. In 2016, the team assisted around 129,700 individuals. In order to address further traumatic situations in Gambella region, Action Against Hunger has recently developed a broader Psychological Distress Program for the South Sudanese refugees in Nguenyyiel camp.The program comprised on psychologists, psychosocial workers and trained refugees which help with cultural understanding and language. They help refugees to recover, improve their well-being and look forward to the future again. Poor mental health can be debilitating and getting help to deal with negative thoughts and feelings and find the strength to provide for yourself and your family is critical within a refugee camp environment. The field team receive thorough follow up and every week they debrief their cases and discuss their own feeling with their colleagues and clinical manager to help cope with the harrowing and traumatic stories they are often exposed to.
In Gambella region, Action Against Hunger works both in refugee’s camp and within the local Ethiopian communities to prevent and fight malnutrition. Our activities are supported by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations of the European Commission (ECHO), the Bureau of Populations, Refugees and Migrations (BPRM), Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).