During the past two years, Dr. Arshad Husain has interviewed
more than 1,000 children in Bosnia. Most of the children,
he says, suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder--depression,
flashbacks, nightmares. Ninety-two percent of the children
talked about committing suicide. He recalls one boy who shares
a bedroom with his grandfather and who many nights runs screaming
to the basement, because the old man's whistling snore sounds
like incoming shells.
"When the children suffer nightmares, they need to know they
aren't going crazy," says Husain, chief of psychiatry at the
University of Missouri in Columbia. "They need to hear that
many other children and adults are suffering the same pain,
experiencing the same torment at night. In particular, the
children must understand that they did not cause the bad things
that have happened to their families."
Husain and his colleagues have trained several hundred teachers,
parents, and relief workers in Bosnia to help children with
their fears. As with the Oklahoma City bombing--where Husain
also ran training sessions--adults often try to shield children
by not talking about a horrible event, instead of sharing
their grief and fears.
He tells the story of Tarik, a young Serbian boy, who, after
losing both his parents, talked little at school. His teacher
tried but failed to draw him out. Then the teacher's own father
died in a concentration camp. At first, she stopped coming
to her classes, but eventually she returned and talked to
her class about losing her father.
"The teacher cried as she told her story to the children,"
says Husain. "Eventually, Tarik came to her, sat on her lap,
and said, 'I know how you feel. I lost my parents too.' From
that moment on, Tarik has opened up to her. She is considering
adopting the little boy."
The key to the recovery of Bosnia's children, says Husain,
is that they find ways to share their grief with other children
and adults who have been through the same chaos and pain.
Along with drawing, storytelling, and writing, he thinks online
conversations among Bosnian kids scattered around the world
could help immensely children who may feel forgotten and alone.
Bringing the kids together, he says, offers them hope because
it's an affirmation, maybe even a celebration, that they have