‘First of its kind’ Illawarra trauma project helping Syrian refugees

PROJECT LAUNCH: Sarah Azam prepares the table of Syrian food for guests and participants of the Champions of Resilience event on May 11. Picture: Adam McLean
PROJECT LAUNCH: Sarah Azam prepares the table of Syrian food for guests and participants of the Champions of Resilience event on May 11. Picture: Adam McLean

The escalation of violence in their home country in recent times has brought back “painful emotions” for many of the Illawarra’s most recent Syrian refugees.

That’s why they “appreciated” taking part in a “first of its kind” project featuring empowering bilingual resources that assist in processing trauma.

Project leader Nina Trad Azam said ‘Self Care for Refugee trauma to Self-Actualize’ was the first of of its kind to take a three-pronged, specialised and culturally appropriate approach to the therapeutic processing and integration of trauma.

The social worker said the six-month long project’s success had a lot to do with the development of 90 Hope & Resilience cards.

‘Using Arabic bilingual cards the 15 recently arrived Syrian refugees and their families were able to add personal and meaningful photographs from different places in Syria,” Mrs Azam said.

“They [cards]  are very beneficial in a wide therapeutic context.”

The project participants also took part in six, monthly psycho-education and focus group sessions as well as weekly beach walks with a male exercise physiologist and female counsellor.

Eight therapeutic bilingual Arabic counselling sessions were also held at their home and Russell Vale Family Medical and Acupuncture Practice.

“My project focused on trying to empower the participants by acknowledging their rough journey, scaffolding them to rebuild new trusting relationships and by normalising their human reactions to their extraordinary experiences.

“I also wanted to assist them to process their trauma and manage their trauma symptoms and overwhelming experiences of grief and loss,” Mrs Azam said.

The project was officially launched on Friday, May 11 with a ‘Champions of Resilience' event celebrating and acknowledging the refugees’ “amazing human journey of survival, perseverance and hope”.

“I feel very privileged to have worked with the participants, especially at a very critical time with the escalation of the conflict overseas and increased psychological symptoms of re-traumatization over the months of March and April making them feel more vulnerable,” she said.

“I am writing a report about the project highlighting related issues that were stressors to their adjustment such as housing; disability, employment and other social stressors that continue to impact them.

“I have also reached out to collaborate with other stakeholders including STARTS and other settlement services.

“There has also been keen interest from other members of the community wishing to participate in future projects.”

People who were unable to attend the launch and receive the set of cards and USB resources can still do so by emailing selfactualizeau@gmail.com.

The project was supported by a $50,000 Primary Health Network-  Coordinare grant.

This story ‘First of its kind’ Illawarra trauma project helping refugees first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.