In 2013 Wendy Ager visited the Ahfad Trauma Treatment Training Center (ATTTC) in Khartoum for War Trauma Foundation (WTF). The center was established last in 2012 by Ahfad University in cooperation with WTF and aims to help individuals, families and Sudanese communities that have been impacted by trauma and adversity.
Sudan is still recovering from 20 years of civil war that ended in 2005 with 2 million death and 4 million internal refugees.
Wendy Ager lived in Malawi for some years but this visit to Sudan is a first and she had no idea what to expect. She felt encouraged by the warm reception and the interest in WTF’s work at the Sudanese Embassy when applying for her visa. And on her flight into Khartoum she sat alongside a family from Britain with three young children who were visiting their grandparents in Sudan. “One of the children taught me a few Arabic words and told me to eat the delicious local watermelon and mangoes.” The Arabic words of course were used and the fruit eaten with great pleasure..
During her trip to Sudan, Wendy worked on the development of case studies and other training materials, drawing on the training the ATTTC has hosted over the last year. “Finding ways of documenting the learning that takes place within this kind of experiential training is a challenge” she says, ”but it is important. We looked at the cases the women discussed and recorded during the training, to see how we can use the material to generate case studies. Carefully worked case studies that reflect realities on the ground are excellent tools in enabling trainees to learn and apply knowledge and skills. However it is important to avoid harm by identifying real people in the process”.
The visit was planned to coincide with a third phase of training co-sponsored by War Trauma Foundation, this time concentrating on cognitive behaviour therapy. It was the third journey of the trainer to Sudan. “The urgency of the situation in Sudan, particularly in Dafur, hits me every time again. The women we train to become trauma counsellors encounter extremely poignant problems without getting professional support themselves. Our training gives them state of the art trauma counselling knowledge focused on their own culture, emphasising interaction to provide a local support network carried by the counsellors themselves.”
Those attending the training are all women. “In this field, women seem to predominate the world over“, says Wendy, “at least in frontline services.” The trainees come from all over Sudan and work in a variety of settings including mental health, family child protection, and the ATTTC itself.
One of the local professionals trained by WTF is Inass*, a 35 year old woman working in the Al Fashir refugee camp in Darfur. On a daily basis Inass witnesses the results of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Sudan. “Long years of displacement, murder, rape and fear” she says, “are more than many people can bear” particularly in a refugee camp, which should in fact be a safe haven. “The reality is otherwise. Just like in other camps we are regularly being attacked and witnessing inter-ethnic violence”.
The trainings and WTF’s training materials make a huge difference to Inass. “Also because in the training I have now met other counsellors like me. It’s great to learn and work together, share experiences and knowledge.”
“And you know what?” says Wendy Ager, “Inass and the other trainees call themselves “the Trauma Girls’. They seem to derive a great sense of solidarity and support from one another. There’s lots of laughter in the group and sharing, alongside a serious commitment to professional development in the face of considerable challenges regarding the people they are supporting.”A closing note from Wendy’s diary: “The ATTTC is located within Ahfad University for Women. I am currently sitting in the covered courtyard where food is served at the university. The sound of the female students is like a huge flock of birds chattering. Not many people are eating because it is Ramadan, but they are all clustered together catching up with one another in the shelter from the sun. The hoardings above us say in English ‘Your World of Escape’ advertising the local phone company, but it seems to me to have another meaning in relation to the potential that higher education brings for women in their lives ahead.”
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