By documenting their experiences, Zakowski believes she is
giving credibility to what they have suffered. She is also inspired
by working with people who have survived such adversity and
found the strength to keep going.
Zakowski is partnering with two former clinical psychology
students from northern Iraq to study the psychological
consequences of the Kurdish genocide. She helped the students
develop an assessment tool that they used while interviewing
100 survivors. Although the data
have not yet been formally analyzed,
Zakowski says it is clear that the
survivors are still suffering from the
traumatic consequences and the lack
of access to mental health services.
A highlight of the project was
training the students in Iraq to
develop the assessment tool and
conduct interviews, Zakowski
says. It is important not only to
build expertise abroad through
collaboration and education, but
to learn from partners outside
American borders by asking
questions and hearing their
perspectives, she says.
Helping children heal
In Uganda in the 1990s, the army
would round up everyone in a
village, pick a boy, hand him a gun
and ask him to kill a woman — who
could have been his mother or sister,
says Mike Wessells, PhD, a professor
of clinical, population and family
health at Columbia University.
The army did this to break the
bond between the boy and his
community so he would not later
desert, says Wessells. He has studied
child soldiers in such countries as
Uganda, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka
and Guatemala, where teens are
frequently forced to join armies or
lured by the promise of food, shelter
and a better life.
They often suffer significant
psychological trauma and distress.
“Children comprise approximately
half the population in developing
countries, and their rights are
frequently trampled on a massive
scale in war zones,” he says. “Human
rights standards are necessary
because governments often commit mass human rights
violations, and international human rights standards take
precedence over law.”
Wessells is interested in helping child soldiers reintegrate
into society after wars are over. These youth not only need
psychological support, but also assistance with finding
livelihoods outside the army.
“The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child is
Dr. Mike Wessells
helps child soldiers
reintegrate into society
once wars are over.