Driven out of their homes by ISIS and forced to flee for their lives, Iraqi families fled to Jordan, approximately 453 miles away. The trauma these families experienced, especially the children of Christian Iraqi families who watched ISIS soldiers destroy their churches, continues even in the aftermath. More than 65,000 registered Iraqi refugees remain in Jordan. Open Doors actively works to help children and their parents cope with what they experienced and move forward.
In their first visits to an Open Doors-supported trauma therapy art class in Jordan, many Iraqi refugee kids drew dark, black figures: ISIS taking over their villages and destroying their churches. A few weeks later, when they finish the program, their pictures have become colorful and lively. They know how to express themselves and how to set new goals for their future.
Maran is the founder of Al Hadaf, a Jordanian organization reaching out to the most vulnerable. Open Doors has been supporting Al Hadaf’s refugee program aiming at restoring dignity to Christian refugees from Iraq since 2015. She shows us around thechildren’s art room.
“Many of these kids saw ISIS take down the crosses from their churches, and it influenced them a lot.”
Maran points at several pictures drawn by Christian refugee children from Iraq who fled ISIS and now live in Jordan as refugees.
“When these kids visit the art class for the first time, we ask them: “What is the thing you miss most from Iraq now that you live here?
Almost all of them draw their church, she says. “They used to go to church on a regular basis in Iraq, and they loved it. It’s the place where they socialized.”
What struck Maran is that many children include large black figures in the first paintings they draw when they start the program.
“The dark figures represent ISIS and other evils the children had to endure,” Maran explains. “After a while, we see the children’s paintings become more clear, bright and detailed, and the dark figures become smaller or disappear. This is a sign the children are processing their trauma.”
Maran points out a painting that’s special to her: “This girl was so hurt that she would hardly communicate at all,” Maran says. “She just drew a tree and said: ‘I just miss my home.'” The tree represents her home; the heart is her pain.
“Her picture broke my heart when I saw it, the truth in its simplicity.”
Changed by Trauma
The next step in Al Hadaf’s children’s program is helping the kids talk to their parents about their feelings. “Because the mom is traumatized, the kids are also traumatized,” Maran explains. “There are a lot of mood swings going on in these families. The mother gets mad at the kids, the kids get mad at the mother, and they can’t communicate well about it. In some cases, the mothers feel so powerless that they start beating their children.”
Just telling them “Don’t hit your kids” doesn’t help. Maran and trauma counselors know they need to help these moms understand why their behavior has changed so dramatically.
“Instead, we’re asking them the ‘why’ question: ‘Why did you beat your kids? You never used to do that. You’ve changed because of the trauma.’”
A simple tool Al Hadaf uses to help parents and children understand each other’s feelings better is a mood clock that they help the children make.
“Every day, they can set it to their mood; either they’e happy, okay, sad or mad.”
Al Hadaf also explains the use of the mood clock to the refugee mothers: “If the kids signal that they’re sad or mad, that means to give them some space and time and then start talking about how they feel.”
The clock has significantly helped the young refugees, including their mothers. “Even some mothers are using it now to show to their children,” Maran explains. “Today, Mommy is sad. I don’t know why, but please give me some space.’”
“I want to pray more”
The last therapeutic instrument the children make is the Goals Cloud.
“When we’ve been through processing and talking about the trauma, we move on to the goals.,” Mara explains. “We ask the kids to set goals for themselves they can work on.”
An example hangs on the wall of Maran’s therapy room. Using it, the child set five goals: ” I want to pray more. I want to draw more. I want to help my parents. I want to listen to what’s been said to me. I want to start reading a book.”
Maran is excited about the impact of this simple, colorful tool: “By applying this, we can help them become a better person. We can set goals for the next day and replace the sadness and anger with good things. The kids put this by their beds so they can use it every day. It doesn’t cost a lot, but it sure helps a lot.”
“We’ve reached the end of our tour,” Maran says, looking around happily. “So, this is Al Hadaf’s art room. This is where so much love is going around and so much understanding.”
Thanks to your faithful support, Al Hadaf is truly changing lives and healing trauma victims.