Over 16,000 war-affected children receiving trauma-relief training

It all started with pilot stress and trauma relief training programs for war-affected children and youth. The participants found the techniques new and efficient. Finding immediate benefits, one participant said, “It is as if a wave of positivity has entered my life. My days weren’t always happy; sometimes I smiled, but most days, I just did not. Now, I am smiling all the time, especially after applying the techniques given to me by trainers. I even participate in class now!” 

IAHV, a sister concern of The Art of Living, which began these pilot training programs took note of this. The Syrian crisis had led to deep psychological impact among community members leading to anxiety, depression, sleeping problems, post-traumatic disorder, anger, and aggression in many children. Due to a variety of reasons like scarcity of resources, past traumas, displacement stress, and unemployment in host countries, parents and teachers continue to face emotional turbulence of their own, leaving children all the more vulnerable. There was a huge need for such programs.

So, IAHV started the Healing, Resilience, and Preventing Extremism project - a project helping the refugee and host communities in Lebanon and Jordan to heal emotionally and build a more cohesive and peaceful society.

Commenced in December 2016, the 3-year old project, initially, planned to reach out to over 16,000 children and youth, over 3,000 parents/community members, and over 300 caregivers in Lebanon and Jordan. 

Today, the team has provided training for stress relief to over 13,945 children, 2,219 parents, and 444 caregivers. 

Almost all the participants reported a decrease in depression levels, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, and anxiety levels, as well as improved quality of sleep. Dr. Katrien Hertog, director of IAHV, tells us more about the project’s journey.

What makes IAHV’s programs effective and different?

We focus on all levels of human existence. Our methods have a profound effect beyond the cognitive levels, without needing psychotherapists and psychologists. Unlike the traditional psychosocial approach, which treats each case differently, our approach is holistic, and effective as a group approach for psychosocial issues. The most distinctive and transformative element of our holistic programs is the range of breathing techniques that change the emotional patterns of the mind.

IAHV has created different programs for different target groups. Can you talk more about them?

“I always used to have nightmares about the bad things that happened to me in the past. I would relive them in my dreams. Now, I am not scared to sleep anymore. The breathing techniques let me sleep without having nightmares, and I wake up rested.” (SRR participant, Irbid)

There is a stress-relief, healing and resilience program for children. 

For more vulnerable children, who are at risk of self-harm, and violent behavior, there is an in-depth training in human values, trauma-relief and nonviolent empowerment. 

We are strengthening the ability of parents and caregivers to provide psychosocial support to children through a comprehensive community approach, and stress management and resilience training. This workshop is meant to improve their well-being and coping capacity. 

We are also training the youth as peace ambassadors, who work as effective change agents, preventing violence in their schools, homes, and communities.

What have the results of these programs been like?

Very encouraging. There have been stories where school students, who were engaged in violence, have dropped their violent tendencies. Youth, who were enemies before, are now together; there is more brotherhood. And, no more problems. 

Using the Hopkins checklist for anxiety and depression, we have also evaluated statistical results. After the program, vulnerable youth and children have experienced a 25.2% decrease in anxiety levels, a 25.46% decrease in depression levels, a 36% decrease in PTSD levels, a 40% decrease in sleeping problems and 44% decrease in feeling hopeless about the future.

Tell us about the special training programs aimed to create peace ambassadors among youth.

“ I felt like we entered a ‘Room of Peace’ when we entered the training. You release all the bad energy, and return happily to your house when you finish the training.” (Peace Ambassador, Zarqa)

The majority of youth, who have graduated from the Youth Anti-Violence and Peace Ambassadors (YAVAP) program, are engaged in peacebuilding projects in their schools, communities, and camps. 

One young group of boys in Menshieh, Jordan has started organizing peaceful football matches, with mixed teams, to create social cohesion between Jordanian and Syrian youth. 

A group of girls in Zarqa, Jordan has helped reduce violence and bullying through workshops and community service initiatives. 

Another group of girls, in Mensheih, organized music and art classes, where refugee children can occupy their time constructively, and avoid isolation and violent tendencies. 

There are many such stories that keep us going.

Tell us about your team and their efforts in making this project a success.

“IAHV programs have had a huge impact in Menshieh - on personal lives, and at work, home, and the community as a whole. You have changed the mentality of this community. It has created brotherhood among the communities here. The violence among the children has reduced. They smile more and are more relaxed and motivated. The local community has come together because of the project. Syrians started to come to our community center.” (Mayor of Menshieh)

Our team has been working with selfless commitment. Not one person on our team is working for a salary, as each and every person is doing this work because they believe in the cause. Our team has been visiting different embassies in Jordan and Lebanon

  • to raise awareness about IAHV's innovative, effective, and scalable peace-building approach, and 
  • to explore cooperation and collaborations with ongoing programs and priority areas.

The diplomats have expressed a lot of interest in our programs.

Thousands of Syrian children are being afflicted with the war’s trauma, making initiatives such as “Healing, Resilience, and Preventing Extremism” important. We invite corporates, institutions and individuals to partner with IAHV for contributions. Interested corporates and institutions can write to Individuals can donate on Global Giving, a crowdfunding platform. All donations made on International Refugee Day 20th June, from 6 am Brussels time onwards, will be matched 100% by our crowdfunding platform Global Giving.