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Understanding trauma and resilience

Tuesday, 22. September 2020


During the virtual conference experience known as the IofC Hub, several International Council (IC) members contributed their time and experience to the network by offering workshops to provide critical training on focused topics. The Hub, which was designed as an experimental offering for those who have been involved in the network for an extended period, was enriched by the diverse programming offered as a result. The topics covered a wide range of issues that teams and individuals are working to change in their respective communities.

One of the most well attended and impactful sessions was ‘Understanding Trauma’ led by IC member Barry Hart and professor at Eastern Mennonite University Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, along with Shoshana Faire and Amina Dikedi-Ajakaiye from Creators of Peace. The aim of the session was to help our teams and global community within IofC to become more trauma informed. This is especially important as we are look critically at the other issues of trustbuilding, which is our core focus area and the essence of our signature Trustbuilding Program. Barry Hart helped participants to explore the basics of trauma awareness and resilience while Susannah spoke on self-care and shared tips for facilitators.

Barry Hart, Shoshana Faire and Amina Dikedi-Ajakaiye


An initial introduction to ‘trauma’ as a word and as a condition was provided by Barry, as he helped participants to understand the fundamental aspects of trauma. He explained that, though it may not be immediately obvious, as human beings we are constantly caught up in our thinking and feeling about what is happening around us; we are collectively and individually impacted by what's going on in the world today. High stress, whether through a single occurrence or a prolonged experience, can lead to trauma in our physical and mental selves.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many to look at trauma in a new way, especially as it has caused significant disruption on what we each consider normal or safe. This meant that the session largely focused on giving participants a broad understanding of what trauma is and how it affects the work of trustbulding. Since trauma can cause a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms, it is important that those who work in peace and trustbuilding are able to recognize the symptoms as a part of the healing process of an individual or community.

There are also different types of trauma, such as intergenerational, secondary stress and participatory – which means that trauma is not only something that the ‘traumatized’ experience, but also those who are trying to help experience as well. This was important to communicate to the participants, because with the different types of trauma there can be associated actions that one may not be aware of, and accidently cause more harm to the traumatized person/people. Even a simple act of comfort, such as a hug, may inadvertently cause discomfort and anxiety for one who has suffered from traumatic physical contact.

Resilience was also covered in the group session, which is the capacity to be able to confront and recover from stressful or traumatic events. It is part of the solution to overcoming feelings of helplessness and fear that come with trauma. So, participants were encouraged to invest time in a two-part approach: group activity and self-care. Group activity can be used to reinforce the biological drive to be with others, but in a positive and/or healthy, which is key for those who have experienced trauma. At the individual level, simple actions like prayer, mindfulness, good diet and exercise are attainable and accessible means to build resilience.

The group present for this insightful session was given the opportunity to ask more in-depth questions and get a better understanding of how to look at their work from a trauma-informed point of view. With a clearer picture as to how trauma impacts both individuals and communities, the initiatives that are ongoing, or yet to be implemented, will be more impactful as a result. IofC will continue to look at other ways to provide resources and training on critical topics, like trauma and resilience, so everyone in our network can be better equipped to create a more just, peaceful and sustainable world.