Trauma Healing in the Balkans

Barry Hart

Eastern Mennonite University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

There's no answer and what were working on right now is in the field of peace building and trauma recovery is to really find those times of intervention when they are most appropriate. My sense at this stage is that, I deal a lot with war and post war circumstances, But when I was in the Balkans the war was still going on but I found people of hope, people of faith, in all terrible, traumatic situations who really do have a vision for the future. So even as war goes on, there are people that we can gather together to work with and to partner with to discover, well what are we going to do and what should we be doing now, related to ending this war and preparing for post war realities.

What we have done and I've done more particularly in Liberia and the Balkans is to help those people of good will and of talent, with gifts that are appropriate for the time and for the future, to come together and say an elicit approach of what can we do. There are models that say that we need to have the peace accord, we need to re-build societies the infrastructures and the justice systems and the political structures and we need to have free and fair elections and all these things. I wouldn't deny that I think free and fair elections need to happen much later in this process. I think we need to be working in parallel and what we haven't done well is coordinate with each other and I would include trauma recovery in this. It is to make people aware that you can work with people and you can give them the developmental tools and the other tools of development or of rebuilding structures and infrastructures and civil society and that's all part of healing. I really believe that we need to put in place an awareness of what has happened, again cognitively and emotionally to people in high trauma situations. That educational component paralleled with a lot of other things.

In the former Yugoslavia, I was working for CARE International at the time, and we started what we called, "Welcome and Information Centers". We strategically placed them in nine different places in the country where people were displaced because of their ethnicity in to one place and the group from that place had been displaced and were at another location where we had one of our centers. The idea was to provide legal information to people so they could come in the door for that, social service information, human rights information, and what we called, "psychosocial help". Someone could come in the door for any of these things but find out that we actually had what we call, "listening circles" meeting from time to time to talk about what had happened and what people want to do with their individual lives or their collective lives as a group. And how they could prepare themselves to go back to where they had lived prior to the war, as a minority ethnic group, go back to a hostile group as a majority and live somehow there and some relative peace or coexistence. We would prepare then the host community to get them ready for the return of the other group.

We also worked within that context not with just individuals, but we worked with groups of people. We worked with children in school systems. We taught teachers which we thought was a real critical area to work with teachers who were working with their own ethnic groups but also eventually in mixed ethnic situations. So the idea was more holistic psychosocial and providing these other helps and also to save face you could come in the door for information around property you lost during the war. But the other psychosocial component was there.