Photo: Children draw as part of MSF’s mental health activities in Doro Camp. South Sudan 2012 © Christina Jo Larsen/MSF
Tending to “Invisible Wounds” Among Sudanese Refugees in South Sudan
Refugees escaping from violence are put through a tremendous amount of stress. Not only are there physical stressors to overcome, but there are mental and emotional stressors that are sometimes hidden behind a resilient spirit. This stress brings with it additional challenges for individuals and families already stretched to their limits. Among the Sudanese refugees who fled conflict and bombardments in their villages and are now seeking sanctuary inSouth Sudan, MSF teams are seeing a great deal of depression, anxiety, fear, and physical ailments with no clear origins. In Upper Nile State’s Maban County, where upwards of 100,000 refugees from Sudan’s Blue Nile State are living in a network of camps, MSF therefore augments its medical activities with psychosocial care.
The stress manifests in many different ways, and part of MSF’s aim is to help people find ways to express it. One day not long ago, a girl around 14 years old wearing a threadbare nightgown sat quietly among a group of smiling and shouting children, staring down at a piece of paper. She had been asked to draw the thing that she fears most, and despite the noise around her, she was focused entirely on the exercise.
MSF psychologist Julia Stempel leaned over to see what the girl was drawing. A picture of a large airplane covered most of the paper.
“The children are asked to draw what frightens them the most, and almost everyone draws an airplane,” Stempel said. “They say it’s the airplanes that forced them to flee.”