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Miriam, 11, Somalia

miriamMiriam volunteered immediately when I spoke to a class in Baidoa in Somalia, telling them that UNICEF would start a teacher-training program on how to help children cope with bad memories after war and starvation.

For that purpose I wanted to learn from the children. I would only meet them three or four times, to listen to them and thus getting better insight into their problems. She immediately shouted: “I need to talk”, in a group of six-seven others who competed to be part of the group.

I started to talk to eleven-year old Miriam. She cried a lot. She was shaking, shivering, almost vomiting, but she wanted to go through it. She managed to tell the story.

She was hiding inside the house where her father and older brother had fled. They had escaped from the search of an opposing clan going for weapons and armed enemies. When they couldn’t find anything, they got desperate and started torturing Miriam’s mother. She was 9-months pregnant. Chewing “chat”, a strong drug, they lost control and cut open the mothers’ womb and stabbed the living baby inside. Seeing the dying mother and the baby on the bayonet, was for Miriam like viewing the killing of life itself. She screamed when she talked about it now almost a year afterwards, but she knew now when she had the opportunity, she had to continue.

I am not telling this to inflict traumatic memories on you, but to bring you close to the painful reality you have to face if you really want to help children in war and crisis. You have to listen to the worst, even the details. After relating her tragedy, Miriam drew the worst details of the memories.

When I came back two days later, she was very sad. I asked her if I was right, and she said she was much sadder now than prior to speaking to me. We went through it again, and she added some more details and showed me her writings and the interpreter read it for me.

When I visited her for the third time two weeks later, she told me that she was even more sad, because of the loss of the mother and the baby. I asked her directly if she had become more sad by talking to me, and she confirmed that strongly. I asked her then if she should have wanted me not to come and talk to her, and she said “I am more sad but I feel better, because I now know it happened.”

I always like to clarify for me and for the child the way of thinking, so I said, “but you knew that it had happened before you talked to me, otherwise you couldn’t have told me in detail. ” Then she looked at me strongly and said: ” I knew that it had happened, otherwise I couldn’t have told you, but then it was like a dream.”

Now, she was sadder. She had got some control over the traumatic, horrible, pictures that had blocked her grief and had started to cry, to mourn her mother and the unborn baby, and it was clear. It was out of the fog.