Kuwaiti young get salve for hidden wounds of war Md. team instructs in coping, counseling

August 30, 1991|By Lynda Robinson

More than 100,000 Kuwaiti schoolchildren who lived through the terror of the Iraqi invasion will learn to cope with their emotional scars using a Maryland program designed to treat stress in firefighters and paramedics.

A six-person training team from Maryland returned from Kuwait Wednesday after teaching 700 Kuwaiti principals, social workers and psychologists how to recognize the symptoms of war-related stress and help their students overcome it. It was the second time since May a team of Maryland experts has traveled to Kuwait to offer assistance.

"There's not a person we encountered, not a child we met that didn't have horrible stories," said Marge Epperson-Sebour, director of psychological services for the Maryland Institute of Emergency Services Systems, who also visited Kuwait in May. "It's going to take that country two generations until the hearts of those people are healed."

One 7-year-old girl has had trouble eating and sleeping since watching Iraqi soldiers execute her father in front of her house, Ms. Epperson-Sebour said.

Thousands of other children who witnessed atrocities or crouched in basements as bombs rained down on their neighborhoods suffer from recurring nightmares, stomach aches or nausea, Ms. Epperson-Sebour said. Some are afraid to leave their parents to go to school. Others lash out at their parents or friends with uncharacteristic aggression.

Kuwait's children returned to school Saturday for the first time since the Iraqi invasion, and they are expected to learn two years' worth of lessons in one year's time.

To help the children cope with the aftermath of the war, the Kuwait Ministry of Education paid for the Maryland team to come to Kuwait to teach school personnel the process used here to help firefighters and paramedics deal with job-related stress.

"We teach the kids to recognize their own symptoms of stress and what to do about them," Ms. Epperson-Sebour said. Positive activities -- planting trees or helping to paint the school -- can help children begin to heal, she said.

The country's rebuilding effort has had a noticeable impact since Ms. Epperson-Sebour and Dr. James P. G. Flynn, director of the Emergency Services Systems Institute, first visited the war-torn landscape in May.

At that time, Dr. Flynn said, 750 oil wells were on fire. About 400 of those fires have been extinguished.

Although many Iraqi fortifications are still in place, the roads have been cleared of burned tanks and other military hardware, Dr. Flynn said. Hospitals that were barely functioning in May are operating at 70 percent to 75 percent of capacity. Water and electricity have been restored throughout the country.

But many Kuwaitis were terrified when hard-liners in the Soviet Union tried to overthrow President Mikhail S. Gorbachev this month, he said. The Iraqis supported the coup, raising the specter of a new source of support for Saddam Hussein.

"I think people will be haunted for years by the horrors and fears of occupation," he said.

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