Dead to Red Race: Step by Step for the Invisible Wounds


For the past few years I have been working with Syrian refugees in Jordan and I soon realised that they not only need a place to stay, enough food, water and medical treatment, but they also need to heal.


Some of the refugees seem to be fine. They found a safe shelter, they receive support from the UN and organisations like CARE, some manage to earn some money and send their children to school. They struggle to survive, but they are strong and resilient. But there is something in the air, something that surrounds them. It is a heavy haze of sadness which can cloud your own senses, a level of gravity that is difficult to grasp. Mothers, fathers and children seem to be too silent, almost motionless. You talk to children who can no longer smile, whose eyes seem to fix on a spot somewhere just to have something to hold on to. The war lies behind them and they are safe now. But what they have seen, what they have suffered, what they have lost still keeps their heads spinning. These memories can be like a hurricane which drags along all of the details of displacement, destruction and suffering. Wild and out of control, the catastrophe still causes trouble in their foreheads, trauma that one cannot see from the outside. Their wounds are invisible. 

To help these children, women and men cope with their experiences of violence, flight and loss of family and friends, we have set up “Safe Spaces” in all of CARE’s four urban refugee centres in Jordan. We offer different sessions for different groups: Mothers can attend sessions to talk about what it means to raise children while on the run, fathers can exchange how they feel not being able to provide for their families anymore, and children can play and simply feel like children again. Drawings of children reveal their pain. They show people who are forced to leave their houses. Some paint colourful tears or scenes of war. We want to help them process some of these memories and feel that they have a safe space to share their sorrow. They hardly talk about what they had to go through in Syria. But they act differently than other children; sometimes they are very quiet and shy. I love children and I don’t want them to be afraid. We play a lot, do quizzes and puzzles. I am happy to see that they have smiles on their faces and look less scared when they walk out of our psychosocial sessions. 


I also learn a lot from them. They teach me how important it is to be part of a strong community, to take care of people and to never lose hope and courage. I have learned that despite everything that life takes from people, they never lose their dignity and humanity. If your house is destroyed and you have lost everything you ever possessed, friendship and love will [trump] the bombs and bullets. I have been working and volunteering for different organisations for the past  several years with Somali and Syrian refugees, and with Jordanians as well. I like to look for solutions. In our sessions, we develop problem solving and stress relief techniques. We try to pause and find the source of pain and, more importantly, how we can ease it. We cannot give refugees back what they have lost, but I think we have to be patient and walk the long journey to recovery step by step. When I run the Dead Sea to Red Sea marathon on the three year anniversary of the Syria Crisis, I will run for the healing of the invisible wounds of Syrian refugees. I want to prove a point. I want to show that even a distance as long as a 242 kilometres has its finish line. The journey to feeling better, to filling hearts with joy again is very rough and exhausting. But just as with our race, step by step and alongside people who support us, anything is possible!


Written by Saif Atari, Psychosocial Expert CARE Jordan


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