Have you heard of the film that has recently come out, called “The First Grader”?
It’s based on the real life story of an elderly Kenyan man, Maruge, who in his youth fought with the Mau Mau during the rebellion that precipitated Kenyan independence from the United Kingdom.
The Mau Mau rebellion is generally recognized as the catalyst for Kenyan independence in 1963, though much controversy still remains over the exact motivations of the various political and ethnic factions within Kenya at the time.
Maruge is now 84-years old and wants to learn how to read, so that he will be able to read a letter sent to him by the Kenyan government.
The main drama in the film surrounds a community-wide debate over whether to allow a person of such advanced age a seat in the overcrowded school. Interspersed throughout, though, are Maruge’s recollections of his time as a soldier and prisoner of war.
When reprimanded by a school official over an unsharpened pencil, he has a flashback to his time as a prisoner, when he was tortured by way of a pencil thrust into his ear.
The long-past incident still remained strong and had the ability to bring him severe mental anguish.
I would like to say that the era of torture is gone, yet instead it appears to be going strong.
The non-profit organization Survivors International reports that 120 countries still routinely use torture to control their citizens.
According to data compiled by the Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis, there are at least 500,000 torture survivors in the U.S.
There was a time, not so long ago, when survivors of torture and other violence had to find ways to live with their traumatic memories.
Some found internal strengths and resilience, while others turned to medicines and illicit drugs to cope.
While not all torture victims go on to develop PTSD, torture is acknowledged in many scientific studies (such as the study conducted by De Jong et al. in 2001) as a significant risk factor for such a development.
In some parts of the world, services are now available to help individuals who have lived through real-life nightmares.
And what can we do to help?
For starters, we can all make sure that we recognize the signs of PTSD in people who have been tortured.
According to Survivors International, some of the most common signs include:
- Fear and anxiety in formal settings
- Sleeplessness at night as a result of the anxiety of late night torture experiences
- Forgetfulness in performing regular chores and keeping appointments
- Flashbacks that hinder the ability of victims of torture to adapt to new circumstances and impede their capacity to function normally
We can also disseminate information on PTSD approaches and treatments, with the hope that this will enable more parts of the world to offer these desperately needed services.
NICABM has sponsoring a new teleseminar series, New Treatments for Trauma.
Have you had experience treating someone who has suffered torture? What are your suggestions as to what we as the practitioner community can do to help?
Please leave a comment below.