“When I came home after escaping the attack, our home had been bombed, and everything was destroyed,” one woman said, expressing a lot of pain.
“I was away when Boko Haram attacked my village,” a man voiced with regret. ”I still feel horrible that my wife had to face it and flee alone.”
“Everyone else in my village fled when Boko Haram came. I was the only one who stayed, and miraculously, I was not found and killed,” a third said, expressing his gratefulness.
“I ran home when our church was attacked,” another shared. “My husband was at home and was able to go in the car to the next village. When he called me, I told him to go ahead and escape. He answered, ‘I will wait for you to find me. We will stay together, and if we die, we will die together.’”
Heartbreaking stories flowed out from the group gathered at a trauma healing workshop in Yola, in early April 2015, sponsored by the crisis team of EYN (Nigerian Brethren Church) for members now living in displacement camps or crowded in relatives’ homes. This was one of many such workshops to help members support each other in the process of healing from the violence of Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. And more trainers are being trained so that more of the estimated two hundred to six hundred thousand (200,000 – 600,000) EYN members who have been impacted by trauma, can be included.
There was no expectation that these three days of meeting together and sharing would bring any quick fix, or that it would take care of more intense traumas that called for more intensive pastoral or psychological counseling. The sessions give a framework for understanding how trauma affects them and others, and helps them choose positive ways of dealing with the emotions connected with trauma and open themselves to healing. This program is carried out with the hope of preventing the cycle of violence and trauma from continuing, knowing that when trauma is not dealt with, those who have been traumatized, in turn, can perpetrate violence and traumatize another group of people.
Exercises such as the “empty chair,” gave participants space in which to “speak” to someone they lost. Remembering that the person, they lost, loved them, offered them grounding for dealing with their loss. Understanding the different stages of grief and allowing themselves and others patience as they navigate these at their own pace and order, provided some guidance for the process. Guessing what was in a small purse, and having its surprising contents dumped out, helped the group to see that what is inside a person who is grieving may not be what you would expect or “reasonable,” and that getting the grief out, frees the heart.
Especially moving, was and exercise called, “circle of hands.” One by one, in the circle, each person said, “I love this family; I wish this family____” and filled in the blank with something, such as, ”hope,” “healing,” or “strength.” After his or her statement, the person put her closed hand in the circle and around the prior person’s thumb, holding out her thumb for the next one to take. The result was a circle of hands joined together, symbolic of the strength and beauty they and others who have just experienced great trauma from violence, can be given as they walk together through this difficult time, within a community of love and support.