The pain doesn't show and doesn't go away

An innovative program sponsored by Kids for Kids offers therapy and hope to young terror victims.

kids 88 (photo credit: )
kids 88
(photo credit: )
Daniel, 13, was having trouble sleeping. He began acting out in school and couldn't concentrate in class. Eventually, he started skipping school entirely. His family was bewildered. What had happened to their high-achieving son? After much loving, yet assertive pressure, Daniel finally confided in his older sister. A year earlier, he told his sister, instead of being at his friend's house studying for a big test, as he had told his parents, he skipped out and went to the park to play soccer. Daniel knew he would ace the test. He also decided it wasn't terrible to nudge the truth. As Daniel's bus slowly negotiated a narrow Jerusalem street, another bus - three car lengths in front - suddenly exploded. Traffic stopped. Daniel, shaken, left his seat and walked out to the smoking pavement. He told his sister he didn't know what compelled him. Perhaps he thought he could help someone or perhaps it was macabre curiosity. He climbed aboard the burnt out bus. Daniel passed by the bloody and lifeless body of the driver. Slowly, he moved through the carnage-filled wreck. Did he stay 10 minutes or 10 seconds? Time had disappeared. Afraid of punishment for disobeying his parents and lying, Daniel never told anyone he had been at the scene of a terrorist attack. A silent witness to the grisly murders, Daniel developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He suffered from nightmares and frightening thoughts. He jumped at sudden sounds or movements. While not physically wounded, he carried a horrible burden and was in need of professional help. To get help for her brother, Daniel's sister had been referred to Kids For Kids (K4K), a youth organization that supports the recovery of young victims of terrorism, and soon Daniel was receiving help there, too. K4K does not provide assistance only to the direct victims of attack. Their services include kids like Daniel, to whom they refer as kids who "fall between the stretchers." These are children who have not been physically wounded, yet who experience psychological scarring and suffer from what is often referred to as secondary PTSD. According to Dr. Danny Brom, director of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psycho-Trauma at Herzog Hospital, "For each victim of an attack, 100 others involved with that victim are affected and are candidates for trauma treatment." Dr. Ruth Pat-Horenczyk, director of the center's Child and Adolescent Clinical Services, has conducted extensive research concerning secondary PTSD among the general population. Her study of incidents, dating from the onset of the current wave of terrorism, found that fully 70 percent of those surveyed revealed an increase in subjective fear and a sense of hopelessness and horror. "Fifty percent [of those surveyed] were personally or indirectly impacted by a terror attack, either being at the scene of an attack or knowing someone who was injured or killed in an attack," says Brom. "Being a small country is an enormous factor in this regard." Meanwhile, 22% had had indirect contact with terrorism. This could be missing a bomb by minutes or realizing that a change in plans would have brought someone to the center of an attack. "An alarming 15% of those surveyed were displaying partial or full symptoms of PTSD, requiring professional counseling," says Brom. He adds that while people think there is less terrorism now, trauma from previous attacks can linger for years if it goes untreated. The general public has a changing reaction to trauma produced by terrorism. "When bombs go off, people are interested," says Brom. "But when it's quiet most people don't want to know about it. You see at this moment that people are losing interest. "Actually, the number of people asking for treatment is increasing! But general society feels that it's [had] enough." Brom observes that a society under threat tries to stay normal and remain healthy by investing in the future, by thinking about how to build rather than to look back. "This might have a positive effect for a lot of people, but others get stuck." The first difficulty is identifying the children in need. Some youngsters, like Daniel, suffer in secret. Their symptoms may be misunderstood or missed altogether. The second problem is getting kids to treatment. "It's just not doable in the way classic mental health works - one on one - and expecting children to come to clinics," says Brom. "It's a well known fact they don't like to do that." Because kids don't like going to therapy, when K4K began focusing on trauma, grief, and other negative emotional aspects of terrorism, they knew their programs needed to be non-threatening and fun. Many of these programs recognize that "speaking it out" is often much more therapeutic than holding the feelings in and allowing them to fester. Three years ago, K4K started their D-Story Workshops in which children (and often parents) are taught how to create "Digital Stories" - a short movie about their experience with terrorism in digital format. "It's healing for our kids to find their voice," says Yeshara Gold, director of K4K. "Terrorism robs a person of feeling in control of their life. Digital Stories not only help children to find their voice, but the process itself is empowering. The computer software allows the child to manipulate the elements such as their photos, artwork, sound effects and frame transitions." The result, she says, helps children regain control over their emotions. Riki Kanterovitz is a K4K Digital Story facilitator. "First the children have to find within themselves the uniqueness of their story," she says. "We help them to look within and find the deeper meaning, the message they want to give the world." After a child formulates the initial storyline, Riki or one of a dozen staff members trained to facilitate the program, helps the child record a voice-over of the script. The youngsters scan their personal photos into a computer, use the several video cameras that the program makes available and gather relevant material from newspapers and the Internet. The time it takes to produce a Digital Story depends on the individual. "Some take longer to focus than others," Riki explains. "One teen repeatedly had to go out in the hall to compose herself while creating her story. But in spite of the difficulty, she persisted in telling her tale. It is rare for a child not to complete their story." A recent workshop lasted four months and included seven children who met twice a week for three-hour sessions in K4K's headquarters in the Old City. The organization also sends facilitators with computer equipment to people whose injuries make commuting impossible. "These young survivors of terrorism rediscover their inner voice through the Digital Story process," says Gold. "Sometimes they don't even realize a shift in feeling until after viewing the piece in its final form." Parents are usually not only amazed by the inventiveness of their child, they are touched by the depth of thought and feelings expressed. The results are pride, satisfaction and sometimes a sense of closure, especially if a loved one has been injured or killed. "These movies are healing for most people who see them. Our plan is to put some of these videos on our Web site," says Riki. Anna is the mother of a teen who was caught on Rehov Ben-Yehuda during a terrorist bombing. She decided to create a Digital Story about her daughter's experience. "I wound up crying for the first time since the attack almost three years before," she says. "I relived the experience without my defenses up and cried again and again. I assume that finally allowing in the fright of what happened, the horror that my daughter's face, chest and legs were injured from a human bomb deserved a mother's tears." Mizmor was 11 years old and Asor only eight when they made a video about their father's murder. Kamah, their mother, said: "Because their story was full of hope and positive images of their father and his vision, I feel that this experience opened up a door to my sons. It has built a space in their minds that is gentle for them to reflect on their missed father." To date, K4K has facilitated the production of 50 Digital Stories. Two of the organization's young filmmakers have been invited to Los Angeles in July, to represent Israel at this year's V7 Summit, a yearly conference that brings together teen filmmakers and advocates from around the world. This year, the V7 Summit will bring 80 teens from 40 countries to explore the seven issues of racism, poverty, violence, health, environment, women's rights, and youth empowerment. They will present seven resolutions addressing these topics to the UN and other international bodies. According to the V7 Web site, the summit will also be the feature of an American television documentary. K4K has provided services to more than a thousand children and their families. In addition to the Digital Storytelling Workshops, K4K also refers children and adults to professional private therapists and offers Grief Recovery programs. Victims and their families learn about the organization from volunteers, who come to hospitals soon after an attack and make initial contact with families. "There's a word of mouth network also," adds K4K social worker Sara Zussman. "When a family receives help, particularly with dignity and no strings, attached from an organization like ours, they pass that info on to others," She also says that K4K has worked with several municipalities, the Education Ministry and the National Insurance Institute, among others. Funding for the program comes from private donations, philanthropic foundations, and fundraising events. In addition, the Jewish Federation of Orange County is currently sponsoring a series of Digital Stories in the Netanya, Haifa, and Tel Aviv areas. Kids4Kids will be sponsoring an art show and sale on April 9-11 and 16-18, in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. All proceeds will go toward K4K activities. For further information: Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma at Herzog Hospital, 678-2899,, Kids4Kids, 628-1987, www.kidsforkids