News from Rumbek

Healing through Sharing

Recently, our Senior Two students learned to vividly describe their existence in terms of a Tree of Life. 1

This is a workshop methodology that was designed by REPSSI, which can be used to provide psychosocial support to children.

The workshop at Loreto used a module that was adopted from Catholic Relief Services (CRS), to help students to identify the core parts of a Tree of Life: roots, ground, trunk, branches, leaves and fruits.

Just as a tree is made of different parts – so is a student’s life. To shine bright in life, our students have people to lean on and individuals to push them to achieve their goals.

Here at Loreto, our compound is filled with lush, beautiful trees like the neem tree, which gives us maximum shade from the sun, and the lulu tree that provides highly valuable lulu oil. The Senior 2 students were encouraged to imagine themselves as these trees.

In training sessions facilitated by Ms. Rita Achieng, our resident primary school teacher trainer, the girls shared openly about their personal lives in an attempt to better understand themselves and others.

Ms. Rita described the training, “The program helps young people understand their inner lives and those of their peers.

A safe place to share ideas

Students find a safe place to share their ideas as whatever is discussed is not shared outside this setting. Children therefore feel protected and cannot be abused. Any idea should be respected and students listen to other people’s ideas without mockery. Throughout the session we encourage active listening with our eyes, ears and heart so that we can understand emotions and motivations and keep discussions lively.”

All of our Senior 2 students serve as student teachers in our primary school, spending one hour every Wednesday with the younger students, with guidance and support from Ms. Rita. The Tree of Life training sessions are designed to prepare these student teachers to help the primary school students to foster bonds of friendship and love through a deeper understanding of each other. They will also help the student teachers with classroom management and student care, skills essential for excellent teaching.

The trainings are part of a pilot towards the development of peace education curricula for the primary and secondary schools, through funding from CRS.

At Loreto, our students’ lives are heavily affected by conflict, both from the ongoing civil war and from inter-communal clashes. The Rumbek area in particular, is rife with conflict due to cattle raiding and feuds.

Conflict mapping reports show that this region of South Sudan has had the highest incidence of violent conflict between communities over the year 2. Poor nutrition due to food insecurity, and poor healthcare also result in the death of many family members, which is a source of grief and stress for many of our students. These factors combine to create a situation in which students carry heavy emotional burdens with limited support.

Trauma Healing

By creating their own Trees of Life, students can learn to encourage, support and appreciate each other, and to understand their own inner lives. This approach helps students to work towards healing from the trauma they have experienced and to build resiliency to face traumatic incidents in the future.

Parents, grandparents, ancestors and guardians are the roots of a Tree of Life. Our parents brought us to existence by bearing us, and they hold us firm in the ground, helping us to grow despite many challenges.

The ground is made up of the things that we do every day. It provides nourishment and stability for development. Eating, reading, bathing, praying, playing, working and other daily tasks keep us lively and help us to grow.

The trunk comprises our skills, gifts and talents. Some trees have gifts of singing, design, art, modelling, debating, poetry and academic excellence. Branches are our hopes and dreams for our lives.

Tree of Life

The ‘Tree of Life’ is a a workshop methodology which is helping our students recover from trauma and look to the future.

Many girls at Loreto aspire to be future doctors, lawyers, surgeons, teachers and pilots. The leaves are the important people in our lives, like our family members, church members, friends and teachers.

Fruits are the gifts we get from people. They can be material gifts like clothes, shoes, and notebooks from parents and friends. Another type of fruit is the knowledge that we get from different people in the society.

The messages of hope and healing that Loreto students receive from the clergy as they assemble under our neem tree for weekly mass, is another gift.

After learning about the parts of the Tree of Life, our Senior Two students spent a week drawing, annotating and decorating their own Trees. At the end of the week, they gathered together to describe their personal Trees.

Mary Akuer in Senior 2T was excited to talk about working on her Tree of Life, “I have learnt that I should respect other people and make the world a better place for them to live in. I will adopt such skills like active listening as it will also help me work towards my future goals as I will concentrate more in class. I should also relate well with the people around me and influence them positively as we work to achieve our goals together. I appreciate with a big heart the work done by the leaves to make us colorful and admirable in the world.”

Supporting each other

Together, the girls glued their Trees to a classroom wall to form a Forest of Life, a collection of Trees that support each other. The Senior 2 students then discussed the Storms of Life, the challenges they face, and the Animals in the Forest, the people around them who influence their lives.

The Tree of Life sessions were very important for Mary Anyang in Senior 2W, “The session helped me open up to other people and share life ideas, life challenges and by sharing our problems, they seem smaller than we felt them as an individual. I have also learnt to love what I do and give my all so that I can give back to the people who tirelessly support me. The Tree of Life teaches me that I cannot survive by my own and thus I will be a good tree in the forest. May be I could be like neem tree and help my fellow trees (friends) get healed from many diseases.”

Soon, these girls will be facilitating Tree of Life sessions over the course of 20 weeks for students at the Loreto Primary School. We are excited to see the fruits of their labour, and we are confident that their work will be a success.

1 REPSSI (2016), Tree of Life: A workshop methodology for children, young people and adults.
 Johannesburg: REPSSI.

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