This week I am participating in the American Bible Society sponsored Community of Practice for trauma healing interventionists. The audience represents many organizations, Exile International, Wycliffe, SIL, the Seed Company, Food for the Hungry, as well as many bible societies. Attendees come from places such as Sri Lanka, Nigeria, South Sudan, CAR, Rwanda, Uganda plus several more.
Today, we heard from successes and challenges in several specific areas. Then, Dr. Matthew Stanford (Baylor) gave us an overview of trauma around the world. When we look at armed conflict, we see much on the continent of Africa. Natural disasters take even more of the globe. Trafficking, HIV and sexual violence cover the rest. While some 50% of the US population are exposed to traumatic events, only about 8% will meet criteria for PTSD during their lifetime. In other parts of the world, 90% are exposed to trauma and 40% will meet criteria for PTSD during their lifetime. One of the challenges missionary/humanitarian efforts face is learning about the symptoms and impact of trauma on populations. Too often people either neglect trauma or only focus on a few symptoms. We can try to work on one problem (domestic violence) but without addressing the deeper roots of trauma, it is likely not to be very effective.
After Matt, Rebecca Deng spoke of the experience of being a refugee (South Sudan) and coming to the US as a refugee. Some 42 million refugees worldwide. Some 25 million internally displaced (IDPs) on the continent of Africa. She told a bit of her story of loss and struggle even as she came to the US as an unaccompanied youth. She spoke this very important question
You can grow food, purify water, but who can clean the wounds of the heart?
We ended the morning session with a presentation from Bethany Haley of Exile International. Dr. Haley spoke about the impact of trauma on children. (Exile has work in the DRC and Uganda.) She reviewed the many sources of trauma (armed violence, sexual violence, trafficking, child labor, orphans, recruitment into armed gangs) and how it commonly impacts capacity to develop well and learn. We know that trauma changes brain structure and function. She pointed us to the work of Karyn Purvis at Texas Christian University who has done work on the effects of trauma on developing brains. In addition, she pointed us to Unicef materials available to teach about child trafficking around the world.