Iraqi refugee women receiving trauma counselling in Amman

A shocking fact about trauma in Iraq

Three generations of Iraqis experience trauma because of 40 years of war and sectarian violence. Despite this, there is only one psychiatric hospital in Iraq and just 1 psychiatrist for every 300,000 people. A fascinating new documentary called ‘Iraq: A State of Mind’ sheds light on this important issue. It aired on Monday 20th May at 22:00 (GMT) on BBC Four and is available on BBC iPlayer.

A trailer for the film introduces a young Iraqi woman called Maryam. She was kidnapped by ISIS and sold as a sex slave. During her four years in captivity, she was raped by three different men. Following her escape, she has developed a speech impediment and has suicidal thoughts. Consequently, she spends much of her time alone. Maryam’s mother is still missing and her father struggles to talk to his daughter about the horrors she endured. Due to cultural stigma, he tells Maryam to forget her problems, believing that she will suffer more by dwelling on the trauma.

Sander’s story

The moment Sander is freed from a prison pit in Iraq – he suffers trauma to this day

Similarly, many of the Iraqi refugees we are helping in Jordan suffer from poor mental health. Because of the horrors they have seen, they battle daily with anxiety, depression, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts. One such person is Sander. His story goes like this – one day armed men kidnap him from his home in Baghdad. They beat him, and then drive him into the desert where they lock him in a cupboard-sized prison pit. He prays that someone will find him. 

After nearly a hundred hours cowering in darkness, Sander’s prayers are finally answered. Local people alert US soldiers who rescue him. Sander has lost all hearing in his left ear due to the beatings. As a result of his experiences, he has panic attacks and is likely suffering from undiagnosed PTSD. It is hearing stories like Sander’s that inspired us to support a trauma counselling initiative in Jordan. Above all, we want to help heal the hidden injuries these people suffer from. 

Our success at treating those impacted by trauma

Iraqi refugee children participating in an art therapy class

The trauma centre at The Nazarene Church in Amman helps hundreds of Iraqi refugees deal with their mental health issues. Many receive talking therapies by a qualified counsellor from a German charity we are working with. In addition, we support the provision of activities including art, music, cookery, exercise and language classes. The therapeutic benefits of this are significant, even transformative. 

Now, thanks to a grant from The Jerusalem Trust, we will be setting up a new centre in the Jordanian city of Madaba to help more Iraqi refugees there. We already work in Madaba supporting 115 refugees families. We are calling this new centre ‘The Madaba Cultural Academy’ as it will also include educational courses for refugees and other forms of support. However, a new name may emerge in the coming months. 

The grant from The Jerusalem Trust will cover some of the costs of the building in Madaba and pay for educational materials, youth activities and counselling sessions. Our sister charity in America will pay the rent and utilities for the first year. As ever, we are grateful for their commitment to the refugees in Jordan. However, we need further funding if we are to maximise the impact of the centre and reach more people. With your help, we will provide empowerment workshops for women and more professional support. We would also like to reach out to Syrian refugees and help facilitate better integration between refugee groups.

How you can help

The site of the new centre for trauma counselling and education in Madaba

With your support, our trauma centres in Jordan will continue to help those scarred by war. As a result of our work, many refugees will be able to move on with their lives. If you would like to support our work in Madaba, please make a donation now via our donate page (there are numerous options for how to donate). Alternatively, you can send us a cheque made out to ‘FRRME’ to: FRRME, PO Box 229, Petersfield, Hants, GU32 9DL, United Kingdom. 

Thank you!