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  • Worldwide, over 1.5 billion people experience armed conflict.

  • In response, people are forced to flee their country,

  • leaving over 15 million refugees.

  • Children, without a doubt,

  • are the most innocent and vulnerable victims ...

  • but not just from the obvious physical dangers,

  • but from the often unspoken effects that wars have on their families.

  • The experiences of war leave children at a real high risk

  • for the development of emotional and behavioral problems.

  • Children, as we can only imagine,

  • will feel worried, threatened and at risk.

  • But there is good news.

  • The quality of care that children receive in their families

  • can have a more significant effect on their well-being

  • than from the actual experiences of war that they have been exposed to.

  • So actually, children can be protected

  • by warm, secure parenting during and after conflict.

  • In 2011, I was a first-year PhD student

  • in the University of Manchester School of Psychological Sciences.

  • Like many of you here,

  • I watched the crisis in Syria unfold in front of me on the TV.

  • My family is originally from Syria,

  • and very early on,

  • I lost several family members in really horrifying ways.

  • I'd sit and I'd gather with my family and watch the TV.

  • We've all seen those scenes:

  • bombs destroying buildings,

  • chaos, destruction

  • and people screaming and running.

  • It was always the people screaming and running that really got me the most,

  • especially those terrified-looking children.

  • I was a mother to two young, typically inquisitive children.

  • They were five and six then,

  • at an age where they typically asked lots and lots of questions,

  • and expected real, convincing answers.

  • So, I began to wonder what it might be like

  • to parent my children in a war zone and a refugee camp.

  • Would my children change?

  • Would my daughter's bright, happy eyes lose their shine?

  • Would my son's really relaxed and carefree nature become fearful and withdrawn?

  • How would I cope?

  • Would I change?

  • As psychologists and parent trainers,

  • we know that arming parents with skills in caring for their children

  • can have a huge effect on their well-being,

  • and we call this parent training.

  • The question I had was,

  • could parent training programs be useful for families

  • while they were still in war zones or refugee camps?

  • Could we reach them with advice or training

  • that would help them through these struggles?

  • So I approached my PhD supervisor,

  • Professor Rachel Calam,

  • with the idea of using my academic skills to make some change in the real world.

  • I wasn't quite sure what exactly I wanted to do.

  • She listened carefully and patiently,

  • and then to my joy she said,

  • "If that's what you want to do, and it means so much to you,

  • then let's do it.

  • Let's find ways to see if parent programs

  • can be useful for families in these contexts."

  • So for the past five years, myself and my colleagues --

  • Prof. Calam and Dr. Kim Cartwright --

  • have been working on ways to support families

  • that have experienced war and displacement.

  • Now, to know how to help families that have been through conflict

  • support their children,

  • the first step must obviously be to ask them what they're struggling with,

  • right?

  • I mean, it seems obvious.

  • But it's often those that are the most vulnerable,

  • that we're trying to support,

  • that we actually don't ask.

  • How many times have we just assumed we know exactly the right thing

  • that's going to help someone or something without actually asking them first?

  • So I travelled to refugee camps in Syria and in Turkey,

  • and I sat with families, and I listened.

  • I listened to their parenting challenges,

  • I listened to their parenting struggles

  • and I listened to their call for help.

  • And sometimes that was just paused,

  • as all I could do was hold hands with them

  • and just join them in silent crying and prayer.

  • They told me about their struggles,

  • they told me about the rough, harsh refugee camp conditions

  • that made it hard to focus on anything but practical chores

  • like collecting clean water.

  • They told me how they watched their children withdraw;

  • the sadness, depression, anger,

  • bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, fear of loud noises,

  • fear of nightmares --

  • terrifying, terrifying nightmares.

  • These families had been through what we had been watching on the TV.

  • The mothers --

  • almost half of them were now widows of war,

  • or didn't even know if their husbands were dead or alive --

  • described how they felt they were coping so badly.

  • They watched their children change and they had no idea how to help them.

  • They didn't know how to answer their children's questions.

  • What I found incredibly astonishing and so motivational

  • was that these families were so motivated to support their children.

  • Despite all these challenges they faced,

  • they were trying to help their children.

  • They were making attempts at seeking support from NGO workers,

  • from refugee camp teachers,

  • professional medics,

  • other parents.

  • One mother I met had only been in a camp for four days,

  • and had already made two attempts

  • at seeking support for her eight-year-old daughter

  • who was having terrifying nightmares.

  • But sadly, these attempts are almost always useless.

  • Refugee camp doctors, when available,

  • are almost always too busy,

  • or don't have the knowledge or the time for basic parenting supports.

  • Refugee camp teachers and other parents are just like them --

  • part of a new refugee community who's struggling with new needs.

  • So then we began to think.

  • How could we help these families?

  • The families were struggling with things much bigger than they could cope with.

  • The Syrian crisis made it clear

  • how incredibly impossible it would be to reach families on an individual level.

  • How else could we help them?

  • How would we reach families at a population level

  • and low costs

  • in these terrifying, terrifying times?

  • After hours of speaking to NGO workers,

  • one suggested a fantastic innovative idea

  • of distributing parenting information leaflets via bread wrappers --

  • bread wrappers that were being delivered to families in a conflict zone in Syria

  • by humanitarian workers.

  • So that's what we did.

  • The bread wrappers haven't changed at all in their appearance,

  • except for the addition of two pieces of paper.

  • One was a parenting information leaflet that had basic advice and information

  • that normalized to the parent what they might be experiencing,

  • and what their child might be experiencing.

  • And information on how they could support themselves and their children,

  • such as information like spending time talking to your child,

  • showing them more affection,

  • being more patient with your child,

  • talking to your children.

  • The other piece of paper was a feedback questionnaire,

  • and of course, there was a pen.

  • So is this simply leaflet distribution,

  • or is this actually a possible means of delivering psychological first aid

  • that provides warm, secure, loving parenting?

  • We managed to distribute 3,000 of these in just one week.

  • What was incredible was we had a 60 percent response rate.

  • 60 percent of the 3,000 families responded.

  • I don't know how many researchers we have here today,

  • but that kind of response rate is fantastic.

  • To have that in Manchester would be a huge achievement,

  • let alone in a conflict zone in Syria --

  • really highlighting how important these kinds of messages were to families.

  • I remember how excited and eager we were for the return of the questionnaires.

  • The families had left hundreds of messages --

  • most incredibly positive and encouraging.

  • But my favorite has got to be,

  • "Thank you for not forgetting about us and our children."

  • This really illustrates the potential means

  • of the delivery of psychological first aid to families,

  • and the return of feedback, too.

  • Just imagine replicating this using other means

  • such as baby milk distribution, or female hygiene kits,

  • or even food baskets.

  • But let's bring this closer to home,

  • because the refugee crisis

  • is one that is having an effect on every single one of us.

  • We're bombarded with images daily of statistics and of photos,

  • and that's not surprising,

  • because by last month,

  • over one million refugees had reached Europe.

  • One million.

  • Refugees are joining our communities,

  • they're becoming our neighbors,

  • their children are attending our children's schools.

  • So we've adapted the leaflet to meet the needs of European refugees,

  • and we have them online, open-access,

  • in areas with a really high refugee influx.

  • For example, the Swedish healthcare uploaded it onto their website,

  • and within the first 45 minutes,

  • it was downloaded 343 times --

  • really highlighting how important it is

  • for volunteers, practitioners and other parents

  • to have open-access, psychological first-aid messages.

  • In 2013, I was sitting on the cold, hard floor of a refugee camp tent

  • with mothers sitting around me as I was conducting a focus group.

  • Across from me stood an elderly lady

  • with what seemed to be a 13-year-old girl lying beside her,

  • with her head on the elderly lady's knees.

  • The girl stayed quiet throughout the focus group,

  • not talking at all,

  • with her knees curled up against her chest.

  • Towards the end of the focus group,

  • and as I was thanking the mothers for their time,

  • the elderly lady looked at me while pointing at the young girl,

  • and said to me, "Can you help us with...?"

  • Not quite sure what she expected me to do,

  • I looked at the young girl and smiled,

  • and in Arabic I said,

  • "Salaam alaikum. Shu-ismak?"

  • "What's your name?"

  • She looked at me really confused and unengaged,

  • but then said, "Halul."

  • Halul is the pet's name for the Arabic female name, Hala,

  • and is only really used to refer to really young girls.

  • At that point I realized that actually Hala was probably much older than 13.

  • It turns out Hala was a 25-year-old mother to three young children.

  • Hala had been a confident, bright, bubbly, loving, caring mother

  • to her children,

  • but the war had changed all of that.

  • She had lived through bombs being dropped in her town;

  • she had lived through explosions.

  • When fighter jets were flying around their building,

  • dropping bombs,

  • her children would be screaming, terrified from the noise.

  • Hala would frantically grab pillows and cover her children's ears

  • to block out the noise,

  • all the while screaming herself.

  • When they reached the refugee camp

  • and she knew they were finally in some kind of safety,

  • she completely withdrew to acting like her old childhood self.

  • She completely rejected her family --

  • her children, her husband.

  • Hala simply could no longer cope.

  • This is a parenting struggle with a really tough ending,

  • but sadly, it's not uncommon.

  • Those who experience armed conflict and displacement

  • will face serious emotional struggles.

  • And that's something we can all relate to.

  • If you have been through a devastating time in your life,

  • if you have lost someone or something you really care about,

  • how would you continue to cope?

  • Could you still be able to care for yourself and for your family?

  • Given that the first years of a child's life are crucial

  • for healthy physical and emotional development,

  • and that 1.5 billion people are experiencing armed conflict --

  • many of whom are now joining our communities --

  • we cannot afford to turn a blind eye

  • to the needs of those who are experiencing war and displacement.

  • We must prioritize these families' needs --

  • both those who are internally displaced, and those who are refugees worldwide.

  • These needs must be prioritized by NGO workers, policy makers,

  • the WHO, the UNHCR and every single one of us

  • in whatever capacity it is that we function in our society.

  • When we begin to recognize the individual faces of the conflict,

  • when we begin to notice those intricate emotions on their faces,

  • we begin to see them as humans, too.

  • We begin to see the needs of these families,

  • and these are the real human needs.

  • When these family needs are prioritized,

  • interventions for children in humanitarian settings

  • will prioritize and recognize the