A team of trauma therapists from Richmont Graduate University has traveled to Greece to assess and respond to the needs of Syrian refugees and relief workers.  Their mission is the training of humanitarian workers in compassion fatigue and trauma and also counseling families at the detention camp in Lesbos.  The following is a day three update from Richmont CMHC student, Mary Horton.

I just unintentionally soaked myself in the Aegean Sea. It was so beautiful and peaceful and even though the shore was rocky, I just had to get my feet in the water. I took off my shoes, stepped in and… WHOOPS! I slipped on the algae covered rocks and found myself sitting in the sea. No. I was not wearing a bathing suit.

What an apt metaphor for everyday on this trip. I start out confident, and find myself beyond my capabilities. All the cultures represented in camp are very different from American culture.

This is why sitting down and engaging in conversation with anyone and everyone is very important. Greetings have to be exchanged, “Peace be upon you.” “And upon you.” “How are you?” “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “What brought you to the camp?” ”I have time and I know some Arabic. I want to hear your story.” After sitting and listening they usually open their hearts to us and we try to impart a little comfort for the here and now and hope for the future.

Every person we meet, men, women and children, have all experienced a great deal of traumatic events. They carry emotional scars and frequently physical scars. And the traumatic events continue. Every day they stay in the camp drains their resources and keeps the wounds from healing. As one man said, “I have wounds inside my wounds.”

We do everything we can. We play with the children or drink tea with an older woman who acts as the “mother” of her portion of the camp. Chat with some of the many single men in camp, maybe listening to a favorite Arabic song on someone’s phone.

And then there are the volunteers who are here short term. Not only do we have concern for the camp residents, we also wonder about the coping skills of the volunteers who have all come to serve the residents. Their care for the refugees is evident, however every day they are exposed to a spectrum of the human experience from frustration leading to anger, helplessness leading to hopelessness, and occasionally hope becoming a joyous reality – sometimes tearful – as a refugee or family they have come to love, working with them every day, leaves camp to board the ferry to a new life elsewhere.

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refugees · trauma