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Bringing Healing to Victims of Mass Violence

A girl sits at the back of a truck as she prepares to flee sectarian violence in Central African Republic, March 9, 2014.

A girl sits at the back of a truck as she prepares to flee sectarian violence in Central African Republic, March 9, 2014.

Hello, and welcome once again to the program that helps you learn and improve your American English. I’m Jim Tedder in Washington. Today our subject is health. First we will hear about efforts to help people whose lives have been affected by violence.

Then we will meet a group of medical doctors who have found an unusual way to urge people to get their proper amount of exercise.

We are happy to have you listening, as we talk about our world …As It Is.

An estimated one billion people have experienced mass violence, torture or terrorism. Many of them suffer from depression, anxiety disorders and a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder. Some are unable to work or care for themselves or their families.

Now, a small American group is establishing trauma centers in poor countries. As we hear from Jonathan Evans, violence was a problem in those areas.

James Okello and Liz Alderman would never have met if not for tragedy. Mr. Okello is a psychiatrist from Uganda. He treats people with mental or emotional disorders.

Ms. Alderman is from New York. Her youngest son, Peter, was killed in the 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center.

“He did not work in the building. He was there just for a meeting, and he was 25 years old when he died. My husband and I needed to create a memorial for him, to leave a mark that he had existed and that the world would be a better place because Peter had lived.”

One night, she had the idea of bringing mental health care to people in poorer countries affected by mass violence and terrorism. The first Peter C. Alderman Trauma Treatment Clinic opened in Cambodia in 2005. The clinic had so many patients that a second center was opened the following year.

“People often ask us why are you seeing patients in Cambodia? I mean Pol Pot was what? Thirty, 35 years ago? Traumatic depression doesn’t go away. You see this in children of Holocaust survivors. Traumatic depression can go from one generation to the next. And unless you treat it, it’s still there.”

There are now four such clinics in Uganda. The patients include many former child soldiers and others. Some were kidnapped more than 20 years ago by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army. James Okello directs the clinic at Gulu, in Uganda’s North. It helps patients by providing discussions with mental health experts, group therapy and psychopharmacology -- the use of medicine to influence behavior.

“If there’s no form of intervention, definitely there’s going to be a problem. We sometimes talk about delayed post-traumatic stress disorder. That’s the concept that, when the guns stop firing, then the mind starts firing. So a lot of things happen when the emergency situation is long gone.”

The clinics are set up in partnership with governments in each country. The centers employ only local or native healthcare providers. These men and women understand mental disorders both in medical terms and what they mean to local culture.

“We use cultural idioms to express the same Western symptoms. So I think anybody who is not culturally literate, you know, if you do not understand a certain culture, you’re likely to miss a lot or even over-diagnose depending on which tool you’re using.”

The American group operates a clinic in Kibera, a poor area in Nairobi, Kenya. It has also worked in Rwanda, Liberia and Haiti. It provides financial support for a new medical publication called the African Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Liz Alderman says more than 200 health care givers have been trained. They, in turn, have gone on to teach others. All together, the group has reached more than 75,000 patients.

Do What the Doctor Says! And Watch What He Does!

Everyone knows physical exercise is important to staying healthy. But not everyone is exercising enough. A group of American doctors says it wants to lead by example. They formed a soccer team to represent the United States at an international football competition. The group has also developed an outreach program aimed at persuading young people to stay active. Anna Matteo has more.

On a recent weekend, 25 medical doctors from across the country traveled to Washington, D.C. to play soccer. The U.S. Medical Soccer Team competes in the World Medical Football Championships, also called the ‘Physicians’ World Cup.’ The championships are held in a different country each year.

The tournament will be played in Brazil two months from now, while the official World Cup is taking place. Gautam Nayak is president of the U.S. Medical Soccer Team.

“Most of us play locally in our own leagues, but then we have to get together a few times every year to practice in preparation for the tournament. So it’s a big time commitment. The tournament itself is one week long. That was part of why we had such a difficult time forming the organization.”

Gautam Nayak is from Seattle in the northwestern state of Washington. He founded the U.S. team with a friend in 2010.

“We had a soccer team in medical school. And we were also able to do some different community service projects during medical school evolving around soccer. And that really kind of gave us the motivation to form a soccer team because we felt like we can bring together a lot of people with similar interests.”

Ky Tran works as an internal medicine doctor in California.

“One of my goals is not just treating disease, but also being a cheerleader for my patients to exercise and to eat right. And a lot of time, we need that cheerleader to encourage people to make those good choices.”

The U.S. Medical Soccer team had a busy weekend in the nation’s capital. First, there was intense training as the players prepare for the trip to Brazil. The doctors also visited the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington, a group that provides after-school programs.

“We are seeing a tremendous increase in young people becoming obese at a very, very early age, developing illnesses that are generally seen in older patients. And we are trying to encourage young people to make better choices in their food and to get more active.”

Ky Tran says the doctors also urged the boys and girls to think about careers in medicine.

“A lot of populations that, when we do our outreach program, are at risk youth. We could encourage young people maybe not become a physician, but also think other possible professions in the medical field that they may never have been exposed before.”

The U.S. Medical Soccer Team is preparing for the 2015 World Medical Football Championships. That tournament will take place in California. I’m Anna Matteo.

And I’m Jim Tedder in Washington. There are more Learning English programs just seconds away. At the beginning of each hour, we give you world news. This is VOA, Washington.

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