My name is Mahmoud! I am 10 years old...

5 Jul 2017
Blog post
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MSF psychologist Raimond shares the story of a brave young patient caught up in violent conflict, and how he has learned to cope with PTSD.

In our primary health care centre in Turra, Jordan, we treat children suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). However the therapy of the youngest, most fragile and vulnerable members of our society is only the beginning: family stressors, out-dated parenting strategies and social tensions in the environment mean our team must treat our patients in a holistic way in order to have long-lasting effects.

In practice, this 'holistic' approach means that we provide specially developed psychotherapeutic techniques (Narrative Exposure Therapy) to treat children's trauma, use systemic counselling which involves the whole family, and conduct workshops in the communities for children and adults to learn conflict resolution strategies.

We also refer our patients to other organisations (NGOs) who support them financially or with other things they need (non-food-items).

Mahmoud's Story:

My name is Mahmoud and I am 10 years old.

My parents are often upset with me because I pee in my bed while I sleep. Not every night. But most of them.

I don’t know why I do it. It just happens. I am afraid very often and I dream a lot: then I wake up and everything is wet.

The first time happened right after I saw something very bad. A long time ago. Maybe four or five years.

I was living in a small village, not far from here. And this was a really nice place to live. I always played with my friends.

And we went to our neighbor. He had a small farm with sheep. And a red tractor. And olive trees.

And we were playing hide and seek.

Drawing by 10-year-old Mahmoud, who suffers from PTSD. Photo: Raimond Alber/MSF.

And then, the soldiers came

One of the soldiers … he shot my neighbour. But he didn’t do anything bad.
And I saw, how he dropped. He was dead. I was very scared and ran home.
My mom was crying a lot and my dad was very angry and was shouting a lot. Then, the soldiers came and took away my dad. And we were all very scared.
When he came back, he did not look the same, because the soldiers beat him up.
We quickly packed some of our stuff and drove away.
On the road, there were soldiers again. But they didn’t do anything. And my mom said that we are safe now.
But, in the place we are now, it’s not as nice as back home. It is very small and all my five siblings and I have to sleep in one room.
My dad is home most of the time. Sometimes he goes out for work. But he comes back angry because he doesn’t earn enough money.
And once a month he drives to Irbid to a bank to get some money. But he always has to wait very long for it.
Sometimes, our neighbors give us food and toys to play. They are very nice.
But the other neighbors are not very nice. They say that we don’t belong here.
And also at school, we often had fights between the children from here and the new children. Now, the children from here go to school in the morning and the new children in the afternoon and on Saturday.
Now, there are fewer troubles at school. But in the afternoon the teachers are tired.
And after school, when I am on my way home, some children from the neighborhood wait for me to beat me up.

"I am afraid of going to sleep because of my dreams. I see the soldier and the neighbor. And sometimes, in my dream, the soldier shoots at me. And then I wake up."

When I tell my dad, he gets angry too. And sometimes he hits me because he wants me to defend myself. I just don’t tell him anymore.
Sometimes I am angry and hit my younger sister. Sometimes for no reason.
I am afraid of going to sleep because of my dreams. I see the soldier and the neighbor. And sometimes, in my dream, the soldier shoots at me. And then I wake up.
But I have to be quiet. Because when I cry, my dad will wake up and he will take me to the kitchen and holds my hand over the stove to burn me. He wants me to be quiet.
Sometimes my friends and I put stones on the street so we have two goals for playing football. I am the fastest. And I shoot a lot of goals.
I love football. Then I forget where I am. I forget what I have seen.

"A big yet small success"

Mahmoud feels better now.

After six sessions, he rarely has any nightmares anymore. And if he does, he does not have to fear his father anymore.

Mahmoud and his friends play football. Photo: Raimund Alber/MSF.

He appears less aggressive, because he has learned to cope with his anxiety and frustration. And he tells us, very proudly, that football is more fun since he understood to play with his friends rather against them.

Sometimes, even his little sister joins them and they play together.

Mahmoud is lucky. His parents were able to overcome their fear of the stigma of receiving mental healthcare. They are open and gratefully accept our help.

In a world of prejudices and strict religious rules, this a significant step.

For us, this is a big yet small success. Many more children and their families are out there, waiting for us to be found.