We need to heal children impacted by trauma.
It seems as if every time I board a plane, I have this strong urge to write. On my most recent flight to Hawaii to attend a psychiatry and addiction conference, I was quite amazed at the magnificence and mysteriousness of the Pacific Ocean. Standing in front of this majesty brought not only an overwhelming sense of serenity and inner peace, but also many thoughts and memories.
I have always been mesmerized by the power and beauty of the ocean, even before being forced to leave my home country and board a boat across the Mediterranean Sea to start a life as an asylum seeker.
Why do refugees risk their lives and the lives of their children and loved ones to embark on this very dangerous journey? I would argue that no parent would do that to their children unless they have no other choice, and unless they deem that the water is more merciful than the hearts of humans.
As we witness in heartbreak what is happening to the children in Ukraine, we need to understand that no one is immune when it comes to trauma, and that we need to speak up on behalf of the voiceless, no matter their background.
I also watched an impressive documentary about the struggles of the Native Americans. I witnessed in awe the many challenges this beautiful community faces every day—even today—and the leadership and resiliency of the Native women warriors.
One thing that struck a deep chord in me was how the children were taught by their elders. The focus of the schools was largely on 3 main subjects: connection with nature, human rights issues, and spirituality. I would have loved to go through this nontraditional kind of education growing up, because not only is it interactive and hands-on, but it is also done in the safety of a community. It is not only the minds of the children that the teachers are trying to empower—teachers are also trying to teach the youth how to respect their bodies, nurture their hearts, and feed their souls.
I took a similar approach when I cofounded Camp Silah (Arabic for connection) with my wife. We took children of trauma on camps and retreats to connect them with nature, with one another, with a higher power, and mainly with their own selves.1-3
Trauma-informed education is supposed to be child-centric. It is not only about the academic rigor and how much they can memorize and regurgitate—it is also about how to make children believe in their full potential and ability to contribute, and how to cocreate with them a world that is not designed to break their wings. Children are created to soar.
I did the same in my newly published book, The Wounded Healer: The Pain and Joy of Caregiving, which is about caring for caregivers. The 4 areas of focus that beautifully mirror this Native approach is to use all available resources in order for us to heal, especially to be in harmony with Mother Nature; to strengthen family ties; to look at everyone with compassion; and to tend to our souls and nurse our own wounds.
My final reflection is to encourage tourists to enjoy what the luxury destinations have to offer, but also to remember to honor the history and traditions of the local culture. The best part about my Hawaii trip was meeting with, learning from, and supporting the indigenous community.
Dr Reda is a practicing psychiatrist with Providence Healthcare System in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of The Wounded Healer: The Pain and Joy of Caregiving.
1. Camp Silah 2018 Youtube page. Accessed March 22, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmHSmreboFM&t=206s
2. Portland Refugee Support Group. Accessed March 22, 2022. https://www.pdxrsg.org
3. Reda O. Caring for Syrian refugees in Portland, Oregon. Am J Psychiatry. 2017;174(4):311-312.