Trauma Relief, Resilience and Empowerment

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The experience of loss, destruction, violence and flight often has detrimental consequences for one’s mental, emotional, physical and existential well being. In worst cases this can lead to suicide, destructive behavior, burn-out, PTSD, depression or illness, while in less severe cases individuals demonstrate the inability to function, decreased motivation and agency, and increased risk of illness and substance abuse. Traumas associated with conflict related violence create barriers for, among other peacebuilding objectives, the reintegration of ex-combatants and conflict survivors, the promotion of dialogue and reconciliation between warring parties, the de-escalation of radicalisation in youth populations, and even effective governance.

Furthermore, international humanitarian organisations often lack the resources to offer trauma-and stress-relief programs on a scale that is required in the face of mass atrocities and societal breakdown. The magnitude of affected populations and the destruction of social systems and infrastructure often render standard psychopharmacological and psychotherapeutic services, including one-on-one interventions like EMDR and TFT, inefficient and, in some cases, ineffective.

In these contexts it is crucial to offer the best relief possible to address acute psychological and psycho-somatic needs, and also to prevent and reduce long-term consequences, with the goal of encouraging a peaceful and enabled citizenry during and after violent outbreaks.

Trauma Relief, Resilience and Empowerment
Trauma Relief, Resilience and Empowerment

Program Description

IAHV delivers measurable, effective and scalable trauma relief and resilience programs, attending to the clear link between trauma relief, resilience and sustainable peacebuilding.

Providing affordable and accessible trauma- and stress-relief tools to large populations and small groups alike in complex emergencies, IAHV’s 8-12 hour programs produce measurable results, including rapidly and significantly reducing the symptoms of PTS, depression and anxiety, and improving the quality of life for individuals and communities. (For short-term, emergency relief to large populations, IAHV offers a one-hour programme, delivering stress management skills.)

New research suggests our approach – a breathing-based stress reduction program (SK&P®) – results in a 60-90% reduction rate in scores across indices for PTSD, major clinical depression, and generalized anxiety disorder.

In addition, rather than fostering humanitarian dependency and creating long-term resource dilemmas, IAHV trained participants are able to sustain integrative improvements with continued practice and skills application.

IAHV’s integrative tools and breathing based techniques not only reduce stress-induced symptoms, but also increase resilience, fostering critical thinking, empowerment and capacity to cope with conflict. Participants leave the workshop with keys to stress and trauma management, healthy coping strategies and empowerment and stronger community bonds. A key aspect of the program is ensuring that people do not react out of anger or turn violent and divisive during conflict or in postwar periods, but instead learn to contribute towards the betterment of society, thus reducing the likelihood of a return to violence.

With proven tools and techniques, we contribute to relieving trauma and other stress related issues inside peacebuilding programming, to building resilience and creating a healthy and strong psycho-social foundation for necessary institutional, political and economic efforts to become sustainable.

IAHV trauma-relief programs are often complemented by longer-term rehabilitation and empowerment programs and material aid, including food, clothes, medicine and shelter.

“There is a critical need for alternative approaches to the anxiety, trauma, rage, sleeplessness, and other side-effects of war.”
Dr. Emma Seppala, Associate Director Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University

“I observed many victims of war suffering from PTS in serious post-conflict circumstances in Kosovo. IAHV trainings have significantly helped them in their recovery.”  Vehbi Rafuni, Director, Association for Disabled Kosovo Liberation Army Veterans

“I wholeheartedly endorse the IAHV Peacebuilding Program that you are launching. I firmly believe that IAHV has the promise of bringing something unique and impactful to traditional peacebuilding efforts.”
Sanjay Pradhan, Vice-President World Bank Institute

“You send people to a workshop for a week and you figure they’re going to feel better. But to see something one year after is pretty amazing.” Dr. Emma Seppala, Associate Director Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford

Case Studies

Assessing the effects of war in Kosovo, a Harvard Medical Group found that 80% of Kosovars suffered from PTS. The most recent conflict in Kosovo ended in June 1999, leaving behind a society wide need for trauma relief and resilience: over 700,000 prisoners, ex-prisoners, disabled veterans and civilians who had been through, among other things, grueling police interrogations, and sexual, military and paramilitary violence.

Exemplifying IAHV’s systemic approach to trauma relief and resilience, the organisation coordinated its mission to post-war Kosovo with the support and collaboration of Kosovo’s Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and Department of Justice, as well as special and civil police forces and diverse civil society groups throughout the region.

Indeed, IAHV delivered programming to elements from across the spectrum in Kosovo, including to Prisoner Rehabilitation Programs, disabled Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) veterans, Police officers, Women’s Empowerment Groups, Public and Mental Health Professionals/Centres and Conflict Resolution specialists. The resulting commendations and testimonials provide evidence of the programme’s efficacy in the face of substantial need for trauma relief and resilience in post-war contexts.

IAHV’s Prisoner Rehabilitation Program began in November 2004, with a pilot program at Lipljan Prison in Pristina. Since then, hundreds of prison staff and prisoners underwent the program, every week. Reaching out to all ethnicities – Serbs, Albanians, Romas – the programs brought about such positive transformation that the Department of Justice in Kosovo invited IAHV to operate in all of Kosovo’s prisons.

In addition, more than 600 UN and civil police officers participated in IAHV’s programmes. Addressing harmful stress generated in the line of duty, and its bearing on professionalism and the ability to mediate disputes nonviolently, IAHV provided, in the words of many, activities which avoided stigmatising the officers as patients or people with problems. Likewise, and with the approval of the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, IAHV treated a portion of the 2,500 disabled KLA Veterans community.

Finally, working with the Center for Mothers and Children, IAHV treated a number of women affected by sexual violence, providing women, in the words of Flora Brovina, Parliament Delegate and Director of Center for Mothers and Children, with the empowerment “to rebuild their own lives as well as those of their families and communities…the programme has helped women to alleviate the shame, guilt, numbness, disorientation, sense of isolation, distrust and disconnection…” providing “survivors with a method of treatment and intervention that is self contained, personal, private and learned as a like group of traumatized individuals.”

During the civil war in Ivory Coast, the Guerès and Dioula tribes were involved in a violent conflict over land, identity and economic issues, involving destruction, harassment, looting, beatings and killings. Almost everyone in the area had lost at least one family member. The people had been extremely traumatized by the war, had their houses looted over and over again, seen dead bodies strewn being eaten by dogs, and many had become insomniac, lost all hope in life and had taken to alcohol to forget bad memories.

In 2006, IAHV brought young people from both tribes together for its 10 days Youth Leadership Training Program, combining personal development techniques (stress management tools; physical training for improved health and energy levels; explanations on the functioning of body, mind, emotions and identity; powerful breathing techniques to release negative emotions and increase well being; confidence building exercises; processes to overcome mental limitations) with skills training (leadership development, entrepreneurial skills, communication skills, skills to handle challenging situations), fostering interpersonal relationships and a sense of connectedness across divides, and joint service to the community (team building; responsibility; project development support).

Consequently, 20 young people of both tribes released deep-rooted stress and traumas, were able to recognise each other as brothers and sisters, renounced “senseless” violence, and developed and implemented joint projects for the development of their communities. They rebuilt each other’s houses and invited the displaced people back to live in harmony in the same village. Factions within the communities who had never mixed before had come together. Motivated by the youth’s initiative, local authorities geared up community development support, the Ministry of Reconciliation of Ivory Coast awarded IAHV and its sister organisation Art of Living for their unique peace work, and the EU provided a grant to the community.

Since September 2003, IAHV has contributed to rebuilding war-torn Iraq. The aftermath of two wars led to civil violence, economic breakdown and infrastructural shortage. The World Health Organisation announced that millions of men, women and children were in need of medical treatment and psychological counseling. One survey suggested heavy addiction to medicines for stress relief. Besides having to cope with individual stress, there was much to be done in terms of rebuilding the nation. IAHV has benefited thousands of Iraqi citizens with trauma and medical relief programs and women’s empowerment projects. Even as most NGOs were compelled to evacuate volunteers from the country in the wake of heightened unrest and kidnapping, IAHV continued its relief efforts. Supplying medicines, replenishing essential facilities in hospitals, helping schools resume classes were but a few of the activities that IAHV undertook to provide immediate relief.

Trauma relief classes began in Baghdad, Basra, Suleimania and Karbala, and several programs were offered benefitting over 8,000 Iraqis during the course of 5 years. Around 80% of the participants experienced relief from trauma, while only 20% required additional counseling after the programme.

Those suffering from weeks of insomnia as a result of constant bombings and killings reported good sleep. Programme participants also experienced significant relief from depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, asthma, hypertension, migraine and other psychosomatic disorders; symptoms of war related stress.

IAHV found that Iraqi children were among the worst populations affected by the continuing violence and insecurity in the country. “Children in schools break into tears whenever they hear an explosion. They suffer from nightmares,” said local IAHV Facilitator, Vinod Kumar. Therefore the children were provided with daily courses, including breathing exercises and play, stress-relieving games. Moved by the efficacy of the techniques implemented, the Iraqi government and several political parties sponsored a group of 150 young Iraqis to complete specialised teacher’s training at the organisation’s International Centre in Bangalore, India, with a plan to spread these programs more widely across the country for society’s benefit.

“It feels like breathing out all the stress of war and breathing in a new life. I felt really relaxed after doing the breathing exercise,” said 32-year-old Ahmed Hinoon. Importantly, the Iraqi national government supported the initiative, including a Member of the Iraqi Parliament. “We are so unaware of the importance of our own breath and how it can help us reach a stage where there is absolute clarity and focus,” said a Member of the Iraqi Parliament and an ex-advisor to the Iraqi prime minister. “I was so fired up by the experience…and vision of a violence-free and stress-free world that I started teaching…to top politicians in Iraq, and it was a huge success,” she recalls.

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“IAHV gives hope to people, teaches us to live in spite of difficulties, and teaches us to forgive and enjoy every moment of our life given by the Creator! Our city returns to life after terrible shocks,” shares ErkinNurmamatov with tears of gratitude, a year after Osh province in Southern Kyrgyzstan was rocked by a bout of ethnic violence in June 2010.

In the aftermath of a week of inter-community violence, a cloud of insecurity darkened the minds of people and altered their way of life: people preferred to stay home during the evenings, parents did not allow their children to play in the neighborhood. Cross-community trust eroded and Kyrgyzstan’s international relations suffered: both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan closed their borders with Kyrgyzstan for an extended period. The law-enforcement forces (the Police Department in Bishkek), the border troops and the Department of Emergency Situations had to live with constant pressure and to be on call day and night to keep the situation in the multi-ethnic city under control.

IAHV Russia organized trauma-relief workshops over the period of one year to provide much needed healing and rebuild trust. From June 2010 onwards, more than 2500 people (a mix of Kirghiz, Uzbeks and Russian communities) in Osh and Bishkek, including children, doctors, employees of the Department of Internal Affairs, anti-terrorist units, Special Forces and Border Guards benefitted from the trauma-relief workshops. After the success of these workshops, they were also conducted for residents, school and university teachers, Department of Internal Affairs and Special Rapid Reaction Detachment forces in Jalal-abad and Chui district. The trauma-relief workshops also functioned as a common ground that brought people from different ethnic societies together to begin the step-by-step journey of rejuvenating mutual trust.

“The Police Department in Bishkek, one of the first recipients of the workshops, testified about the relief they experienced, improved mental clarity and ability to manage the situation. “We did not have normal rest and sleep for two months. Therefore, there is deep stress and sometimes nervous breakdowns. After the trauma-relief workshop, I feel more relaxed, calm, more self-controlled and y irritability has decreased. I wake up rested. Psychological conditions have gradually stabilized. Everything has become better. The program came at the right time.” – KanybaySaliev, Assistant Chief of Police in Osh city.

“The techniques from the course help control emotions and feelings, quickly mobilize, more effectively solve military problems, give deep relaxation, rest, calm nervous system and let us realize the nature of the mind. This helps to solve problems in the family and in the service not only in emergency situations, but also in peacetime.”  – MuktarbekSydykov, Police Major, Deputy Commander of Police Department, Kyrgyzstan

“During the ethnic war, woman-soldiers cooked and baked bread under fire. Now we have more self-confidence, energy and humor. Health has improved and we sleep better. We have found peace of mind.”– ZemfiraKutlubaeva, the Senior Officer of the Personnel of the Osh Border Unit

A year later, the healing and re-emergence of human values is evident. The bonds of trust and belonging between people and communities are being rekindled.”I would like to express gratitude from all course participants in Osh. The war is inhuman, ruthless and cruel. But at the same difficult time nobility, heroism and kindness has risen in people,” Mamasadyk, a workshop participant, expressed. The streets resound again with the joyful sounds of children laughing as they play, their innocence and sense of well-being restored.

Sri Lanka’s population has suffered through decades of conflict between the army and Tamil separatist groups in a protracted civil war, which reached its peak in 2009. Even in the government no-fire zones, civilians have been forced to contend with the threats of falling shells which killed up to 100 a day, scarcity of food and clean water, and the trauma inflicted by the prolonged war and ensuing displacement. The Sri Lankan civil war has cost the lives of an estimated 80,000–100,000 people.

During this conflict, IAHV / AoL volunteers have organized relief efforts for victims of the conflict. In addition to receiving material supplies, thousands of refugees and victims have benefited from trauma relief workshops conducted in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. These courses have prepared people to live after the war by dispelling the loss and confusion felt by displaced persons. Peace and renewed optimism have been restored to the minds of people.

In July 2012, large-scale riots in Assam claimed 58 lives and rendered 400,000 people homeless in various districts of the north eastern state of India. IAHV and AoL provided relief and rehabilitation to thousands of displaced people from 400 villages taking shelter in 270 refugee camps in Assam.

Chandra Mohan Rai, a yuvacharya: “It is amazing to hear people share how they have been able to smile for the first time after the clashes.”

The long-drawn conflict between Israel and Palestine on the one hand and war with Lebanon on the other has taken a very high mental and emotional toll on the people of the region. Many people have developed post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and sleeping problems.

IAHV and AoLvolunteers have been actively working in Israel and Palestine to relieve people of the trauma left by the conflicts. They have conducted workshops and trauma care programs in the Gaza strip, West Bank area, Jerusalem, Tulkarem, Haifa and Sderot. Many participants have experienced deep rest and relief and expressed that they can now cope with the stressful situation in which they are placed. Special programs are also conducted for youth and children.

From 26thtill 29thNovember 2008 terrorists turned two city hotels and a residential apartment blockin Mumbai into killing fields. 166 people lost their lives and many more were wounded and traumatized. After 3 days of terror, the fighting continued in the minds of those who lost their loved ones in the hostage spots and those who had witnessed the events unfolding.

IAHV and the Art of Living Foundation immediately initiated trauma relief workshops and counseling, especially in areas that had been under siege.Around 120-150 employees of the Oberoi-Trident hotels, whohad witnessed many hours of terror as terrorists held up the hotel,underwent a trauma-relief workshop. “They’re feeling rejuvenated, as during the course the people found a way to get in touch with their inner feelings,” said a spokesperson from the Oberoi Hotel.

Even those who watched the horrific events unfold on television were left shaken. “The children are constantly asking questions. They have seen the gun battle, sitting in their living rooms, and are angry and confused. The events had an immensely negative impact on these young minds with mood swings and anxiety common among all,” said JyotiThakkar, an Art of Living teacher. Special sessions were therefore also held for children.

“I feel much calmer and at peace now. The dreadful memory of what I witnessed on that day has eased away,” says VipulMangukiya, a diamond broker who attended the special prayer and meditation session at the Opera House for victims of the bomb blasts.

In August 2008, Georgia and South Ossetia witnessed tension and clashes on the brink of war. Despite numerous peace efforts, the ethno-political conflict in South Ossetia, which began in 1989, has remained unresolved.

Against this backdrop, a team of volunteers from Russia, including doctors and psychologists, stepped in to bring solace to people traumatized by the conflict. Nearly 1,500 people benefited from the trauma relief sessions, including 200 Russian military soldiers, 80 Russian peacekeepers and 200 South Ossetian peacekeepers, directly in the line of firing. Around 1,000 people, including civilians, teachers, school children, doctors, journalists, and staff of the Presidential administration have also experienced benefits from the interventions. The programs were organized for people from all walks of life and all sides of the conflict. The effort was hailed and supported by the Minister of Health Care, South Ossetia, and the Presidential administration.

On July 11, 2006, Mumbai, India’s financial capital, was hit by a series of seven bomb blasts within 11 minutes on its Suburban Railway. The attacks left 209 dead, over 700 injured and caused fear and panic among the residents. IAHV and the Art of Living conducted several trauma relief workshops benefiting hundreds of survivors and their families.

During the one-month long war in 2006 between Lebanon and Israel, IAHV and the Art of Living aided people on both sides of the conflict.

In Northern Israel trauma-relief courses were held for the general population. The residents of Haifa, many of whom were holed up in underground bomb shelters for months, were also provided with immediate supplies.

In Lebanon, special trauma relief programs were held for refugees from the Shia and Druze communities. In a school in Baysourthat had been converted into a refugee shelter, relief materials were offered and 250 women and children underwent trauma relief workshops.

Through its trauma-relief workshops, IAHV and the Art of Living brought relief and peace to war victims, mine victims, women, children and others traumatized by over two decades of war and strife in Afghanistan. Through the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes, Afghan counselors, doctors, nurses and administrators benefitted from the programs. UNIFEM, the Ministry of Public Health and the Mental Health Departmentorganised several courses for their staff and trauma affected villagers with very positive results.

On September 1, 2004, Beslan’s Secondary School Number One was seized by a group of 32 terrorists related to the Second Chechen War. The siege ended on September 3 with a bloody shootout between the terrorists and Russian security forces, ending in the death of over 380 people and hundreds wounded. Children accounted for 186 of the fatalities.

IAHV and the Art of Living Foundation launched trauma relief programs in Beslan to help alleviate the psychological trauma of victims, relatives and the Russian army. More than 1,000 people, including nearly 300 Russian army personnel, have benefited from the programs. IAHV / AoL’s efforts have been lauded by the Red Cross.

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The 2004 Madrid train bombings were a series of coordinated bombings against the commuter train system of Madrid on the morning of March 11, 2004, which killed 191 people and wounded over 1700. Witnesses and victims were so traumatized, they could not even cry. Anger and vengeful tendencies were common, while in some cases depression and shock were overwhelming. Through its trauma relief workshops, IAHV and the Art of Living taught stress-elimination techniques to several thousand people who were directly and indirectly affected by the terror attack.

“It helped me to share my pain. I felt very comfortable during the course and could control my nightmares.” – Anonymous, Madrid

On September 11, 2001, nineteen Islamic terrorists affiliated with Al-Qaeda carried out coordinated suicide attacks and hijacking and intentionally crashed commercial passenger jet airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, resulting in close to 3,000 casualties.

Within hours of the attack, IAHV began to set up public trauma relief workshops benefiting over 1,000 victims, witnesses of the attacks and residents across the USA. Volunteers also arranged food for hundreds of fire-fighters in New York City, who, dealing so thoroughly with the disaster, had not been able to get any food for their members.

Consequently, The Art of Living was invited to participate in “Back on Track America,” a coalition aimed at getting businesses across America back on track in the post-September 11 business climate. Through this initiative, The Art of Living’s team of stress-management specialists toured several cities across America, providing stress-management services to small businesses and their employees.

“The Art of Living was at the top of my list – I know their programs, I respect their credentials and experience in this area. I’m very pleased to have them as part of this coalition.” – Jane Applegate, CEO & Founder, SBTV.

In addition, IAHV has accumulated extensive experience in large scale trauma relief after natural disasters:

●   Uttarakhand “tsunami” 2013 (on-going)

●   Haiti earthquake 2010 (trauma-relief for 2,380 people + empowerment training for 470 youth)

●   South India floods 2009 (trauma-relief for 65% of residents of 31 villages + 6 doctors conducted 10 medical camps)

●   Sichuan earthquake 2008 (137 trauma relief workshops benefiting 6,565 aid workers, adults and children)

●   Kashmir earthquake (trauma relief workshops for 25,000 adults and 800 children)

●   Tsunami, 2004 (trauma-relief workshops for 50,000 people in India + 25,000 people in Sri Lanka + $1.05 million in food, medical aid, clothing to 10 villages + long-term rehabilitation measures, including 120 houses, vocational training centers and free educational facilities for the tsunami-affected children in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu)

●   Hurricane Katrina, 2004 (Trauma Relief programs to 2,600 aid workers, children, and adults)
Disaster & Trauma Relief

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