Far From Home: The Syrian Trojan Women Project

Far From Home: The Syrian Trojan Women Project

  by Amina Foda What began as a response to the mental health needs of Syrian refugees in Amman, Jordan has grown into a captivating platform for the world to hear the voices of Syrian refugees. The Syria: The Trojan Women project produced a theatrical adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women on the grounds of the everlasting themes and consequences of war that continue today in the Syrian crisis. The play, performed by a group of Syrian refugee women, embodies the women’s journey with mental anxiety, depression and PTSD. It provides a sobering view into their lived experiences and raises awareness of their challenges. In the words of one of the Syrian refugee actresses, the sentiments of loss and the pain of displacement found in Euripides’ play, The Trojan Women, resonated with their experiences of the modern day Syrian crisis. “War is eternal, just the weapons have changed” — UK based producer, Charlotte Eagar, introduced the Project to an auditorium of Columbia University students in New York City (an evening organized by the Columbia Global Mental Health Program and co-hosted by Columbia College). The New York audience was connected to a group of Syrian refugee women in Amman, Jordan who shared their experiences and hopes to a growing Western audience. Originally scheduled to travel to the United States to perform their adaptation of Euripides’ classic anti-war tragedy, visa denials prevented their physical presence in NYC. As a saving grace, technology bridged the political roadblocks to sharing their story. The women were thoughtful and purposeful in their discussion with the audience. They shared their lived-experiences of building their new community...

Social barriers to mental health services in Arab populations

  by Aseel Hamid Accounting for 13% of the total global burden of disease,1 untreated mental health disorders are one of the leading causes of disability, causing lasting disruptions in mood, thinking and daily functioning. It has been predicted that by 2030, depression will be a leading cause of the global burden of disease.2 As outlined in “Access to Mental Health Care in the Middle East”, mental health is not a strong priority in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and services are not widespread despite efforts made. The lack of prioritization around mental health means that the available resources are rarely translated into policy or planning for action at a population level by governments. The purpose of this entry is to determine which factors lead to underutilization of the few existing mental health services. After all, if governments invest in services and the respective public does not utilize them then it will inevitably lead to further deprioritization: a perpetual cycle.   Where does this cycle begin? It is highly unlikely that underutilization results from a lack of need. Prevalence rates of mental illness in MENA are similar to the prevalence rates worldwide.3 Furthermore, the MENA region has been greatly affected by conflicts, some of which are ongoing such as in Syria, Palestine and Iraq. A recent study found that countries in MENA affected by conflict tend to report a much higher rate of depression,4 and another study carried out in areas affected by conflicts show rates of 17% for post-traumatic stress disorder; 5 this is almost five times the prevalence rate of PTSD found in the...
The smartest boy in the camp

The smartest boy in the camp

  By Laila Soudi In unrestrained, impetuous episodes, Dabbos, 22, leaves his makeshift home of Al-Husn Refugee Camp in Jordan to destroy everything in sight. He does this during his one hour of freedom every day, before and after which he is not allowed to set foot outside. At home, a steel chain tenaciously holds him to the ground and restricts his mobility. In first grade, Dabbos had a specific task every night: before he and his siblings went to bed, he would read aloud to his family from one of the Arabic books stacked at home. At the age of five and a half, Dabbos not only read in Arabic but was also beginning to read in English. As far as his mother was concerned, this made him the smartest little boy in the camp. A few months before Dabbos turned 6, he fell and hit his head while playing soccer with his neighbors. His mother remembers only rushing to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) clinic amid tears and prayers. An hour later, Dabbos was diagnosed with epilepsy. His mother, in turn, was given instructions pertaining to her son’s newly prescribed medications: more than 2,600 mg of various antipsychotic and anticonvulsant medications daily. That night, Dabbos futilely attempted to fulfill his task of reading. He was not able to do so successfully, as he now suffered from a total reduction of spoken and written language. Dabbos has not read a word since the day of the incident. And so prayer supplanted storytelling in their house. Convinced that Dabbos’ condition suggested a demonic etiology, the family...
Reporting from the storm: natural disasters in the Arab region

Reporting from the storm: natural disasters in the Arab region

Two days ago, flash floods in Saudi killed four people, with another 10 reported missing, and a further 1,357 having to be rescued by emergency services. Further east in Ras Al Khaimah, police recovered the body of a 22-year-old Emirati who was swept away by surging floodwater. As the severe rain and hail sweeping through the countries of the Gulf precariously pummel at my window in Muscat, I thought it an appropriate time to share a synopsis of a forthcoming report from the World Bank: “Natural Disasters in the Middle East and North Africa: A Regional Overview”. According to the working paper, the average number of natural disasters in MENA has tripled since the 1980s and the flood mortality risk continues to increase despite a global decrease since 2000. This increase likely owes to the interplay between climate change and rapid urbanization of coastal areas, which house the region’s largest cities and economies. Floods are identified as the most recurring hazard in the region, with the associated cost of recovery tripling since the 1970s In the 2008 floods in Hadramout and Al-Mahara, costs amounted to US$ 1.6 billion, equalling 6 percent of Yemen’s GDP. Similarly, the cost of the 2009 floods that occurred in Jeddah totaled US$ 2.16 billion. Given these figures and projections, alongside patterns in water shortages and drought, climatologists and United Nations specialists “suggest that MENA economies will be the second most affected by climate change.” These predictions underscore the importance of introducing and scaling up proactive disaster risk management strategies in the region. The paper notes recent, but slow, regional progress in this regard, and...

Providing healthcare in crisis: Strained systems and insufficient funding for Syria

Earlier today the Harvard School of Public Health convened a forum to discuss the realities of the Syrian conflict and implications for the humanitarian response in coping with the millions displaced by the war. The two and a half year long war has led to a staggering exodus of people from their homes, with an estimated 2 million refugees fleeing to the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.  Many more millions are displaced within Syria’s own borders. This quote from IRIN news aptly summarizes the situation: Across the region, countries neighbouring Syria are struggling to cope with the staggering number of refugees, who have strained health, education and other infrastructure. As more refugees stream over the border every day, the UN is being forced to prioritize the most vulnerable due to lack of funds. The healthcare infrastructure and capacity required to meet the needs of refugees and national citizens alike, and the severe lack of funding to do so, are two key themes that also arose in today’s forum. Moderated by Aaron Schachter, Assignment Editor at PRI’s The World, the panel consisted of Jennifer Leaning, Jeanne Guillemin, Michael VanRooyen, Paul Spiegel, and Recep Akdag (click on names for bios). With the majority of recent attention focused on the chemical weapon attacks VanRooyen made the important observation that the  “issue of chemical weapons is a distraction” and that they account for only 2% of casualties in Syria Rather, attention needs to be paid to the healthcare needs of refugees both in terms of war/trauma injuries and emergency obstetric care, but also to the long-term healthcare provision for those...