Sociologist: Teachers must support traumatised children by the Easter Sunday massacres
by Melani Manel Perera

At least 176 children were orphaned or lost at least one parent. Teachers must be trained to recognise emotional distress. Classrooms should not have empty chairs in memory of victims. Instead, children should be able to leave messages to their dead friends in "memory boxes".

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Teachers and educators "have a fundamental role" to play in helping children to overcome the psychological trauma caused by the Easter Sunday attacks, this according to Ravindra Ranasinha, therapist and sociologist, with 17 years of experience in helping traumatised minors and adults, women and girls victims of abuse and domestic violence, and civil war survivors.

A consultant for the World Health Organisation, he spoke to AsiaNews about the psychological repercussions of mourning on the fragile minds of children, who are the most vulnerable to tragedies.

"Only two months have passed since the massacres,” he said. “The real difficulties arise after six months."

The Easter Sunday attacks against three churches and three hotels in Colombo sent shockwaves throughout the country and caused astonishment around the world with the killing of 257 people.

Several associations, including Caritas, are currently engaged in rehabilitation, providing psychological support for survivors, the wounded and victims’ families.

Card Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo, said that at least 176 children were orphaned or lost a parent during the attacks.

Like the cardinal, Dr Ranasinha believes that the weakest need help, especially children, and that it is up to teachers to take care of them "with love and affection". Educators “must defuse tensions at school, recreate children’s identity, prevent their segregation and help those at high risk,” he explained.

The school community is the best place to talk about cultural diversity, harmony between ethnic groups and happiness. Teachers can help children relax with mental exercises.

“Friendship ties can also be boosted by creating support groups among peers. This can help avoid discrimination, bullying, and student segregation based on religion and ethnicity, as well as promote harmony, acceptance, respect, non-violence and joy in the school environment ".

After the Easter Sunday attacks, "children stopped playing for security reasons. For them, this is a form of repression. This is why teachers can create moments of leisure in the classroom, during which they can allow artistic expression. Drawing helps defuse tensions. During games, teachers must remain vigilant, so the children do not recreate situations of violence such as shootings."

According to Dr Ranasinha, educators must be trained to recognise children’s mental and psycho-emotional distress, as when "the victims identify the teacher with the role of mother". A good way to stimulate reflection "is storytelling. Stories develop emotional intelligence, which is very important at a time of crisis."

Another method "is to avoid having empty chairs in the classroom, in memory of those who died. This causes mental harm to surviving children. Rather, to keep the memory alive, one can create 'memory boxes’, where children can drop papers on which they can write their past experiences with their dead mates. The boxes can be stored in common areas. This way they can be a resource to air their pain.”

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