Mental scars are the deepest

Charles Hanley and Brendan O'Malley on the Afghan salvage operation.

The scars of war are starkly visible across Afghanistan. But its most lasting damage is invisible, internalised in the minds of Afghans.

Hasib, aged four, grimaces and repeatedly butts his head on the floor. A young man named Fawad reports his father wakes up with night terrors in the small hours. An old man, Mohammad, averts his eyes from the rubble of his village because he sees a flashback of dismembered bodies.

There are millions more, according to psychiatrists."Most of our people have various grades of mental disorder," said Dr Fateh Mohammad Sultani, a psychiatrist at Kabul's Mental Health Hospital. "I'd say 70 or 80 per cent of the population suffer."

A study of Afghan children by the United Nations' education and children's fund, UNICEF in 1997, found the majority were severely affected by nightmares, anxiety and concentration problems. A World Health Organisation report in November estimated that five million Afghans suffer serious mental illness. Yet there is virtually no professional help for sufferers. Only Dr Sultani's 50-bed mental health hospital remains intact.

"We are only now really getting to understand how children have been affected," said Elke Wisch, head of UNICEF's child protection programme in Afghanistan. She said story-telling and games are some of the strategies used to address children's distress.

"Education and recreation contribute to creating a sense of normality. The rehabilitation and resupply of schools is already spreading hope for many kids."

So far British schools have helped raise pound;75,000 for the appeal and many more are planning fundraising activities for the second half of summer term. Some of the money is helping UNICEF supply kits of toys and games to learning centres and schools for displaced children.

Dr Sultani stressed the importance of rebuilding schools: "You can't replace lost family members, but you still help. Peace can defeat trauma," he said.

TES Teacher, 6 Join in and help us publicise what you are doing by faxing Ted Wragg on 0207 782 3205 or email him on afghanappealtes.co.uk

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