Turkish teachers trained to help traumatised Syrian children

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Children traumatised by the Syrian conflict are being helped to integrate into Turkish schools (Maya Vakfi)

Refugees and internally displaced people, Teachers and learning

When Syrian families fled from the horrors of their war-torn country, they might have thought their children were safe at last.

But the mind-numbing experiences of living through conflict and leaving their homes for another country have left many young Syrians deeply traumatised.

This can severely affect their behaviour and their ability to do well at school.

“Children who experienced trauma can display increased aggressive behaviours, difficulty in emotion regulation, social isolation, physical complaints, inability to focus and learning problems at school,” said Tennur Katgı, a clinical psychologist in Turkey.

She is the co-ordinator of a school trauma programme run by the organisation Maya Vakfi and supported by Theirworld. Maya Vakfi contributes to the mental, physical and academic development of children and adolescents aged from five to 18.

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Teachers can encourage traumatised children to make friends through play activities (Maya Vakfi)

Turkey is now home to more than 3.5 million registered Syrian refugees – and 44% of them are aged 17 and under, according to government figures this month. More than 600,000 of them are in school.

The Turkish government has announced it will transition all Syrian children into the public school system in the next three years. So it’s vital that teachers understand what support Syrian refugees need and how schools need to be safe spaces.

Many will never have come across children suffering from the effects of trauma and toxic stress, where they experience prolonged abuse or exposure to violence.

Maya Vakfi’s “Trauma-Informed Schools” programme is run with the education ministry in schools and temporary education centres. Trauma training is provided for teachers, counsellors, families and school staff.

“Trauma can impair learning and academic success,” explained Katgı. “Teachers can help with the academic development of the traumatised children.

Teachers can also apply basic relaxation activities to help emotional regulation and stress reduction for the students. Tennur Katgı, co-ordinator of Maya Vakfi's school trauma programme

“Trauma might also negatively affect social relations, so teachers can encourage traumatised children to acquire friendships through play activities.”

Traumatised children will often role-play the events that have mentally scarred them – and this means they can exhibit aggression while playing.

A 13-year-old girl who saw her aunt killed by a bombing in Syria was involved in Maya Vakfi’s group sessions.

“She had missed many school years and was studying at fourth grade in the primary school with classmates who were three years younger,” said Katgı. 

“She was displaying aggressive behaviours and bullying the younger classmates. Due to the effects of trauma, she had no hopes about the future and lacked any academic goals. Her only concern was her to be with her family and to be safe.

“During our sessions, she improved her emotion-regulation skills and the level of aggressive behaviours reduced. She started engaging with the school environment and by the last sessions she started to talk about the future and going to middle school.”

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Refugee children can express their feelings through art (Maya Vakfi)

Teachers who have been trained are now putting the techniques into practice in their classrooms.

Katgı said: “Teachers can support traumatised children while establishing routines in the classroom. This includes having a list of classroom rules, having a regular class schedule and avoiding changes, informing children before the changes occur in the class schedule. 

“Teachers can also apply basic relaxation activities, including muscle relaxation and breathing exercises in the classroom, in order to help emotional regulation and stress reduction for the students.”

One Turkish teacher told Maya Vakfi: “I learned positive disciplinary techniques to apply to children, methods of interventions for children who are prone to bullying and positive discipline techniques against children who have been exposed to trauma. I found the project very useful.”

Theirworld President Sarah Brown said: “We are looking for innovative work that will open the way for education and guarantee success for children. Maya Vakfı’s work is growing day by day and is going to get bigger.”

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