NNA News for civil society

Breaking free of trauma: emergency education in northern Iraq

Thu, 02 Jul 2015 | By Clara Krug

Movement games

experiential education

and balancing exercises aim to help activate the power of self-healing
Photos: Friends of Waldorf Education

Since 2006, the international organisation Friends of Waldorf Education has used the methods of emergency education to help children and adolescents psychologically traumatised by war and natural disasters. Most recently it was in Nepal in May to help in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake there. But the emergency education team from the organisation is not only concerned with immediate measures in crisis situations but also to set up structures which can offer long-term help for those traumatised by suffering. A team was in Iraq earlier this month to train local professionals to take over the work, as Clara Krug from the Friends of Waldorf Education explains.

KARLSRUHE (NNA) – Nine-year-old Sherin (the name has been changed) clings to the emergency education teacher. Ever since the volunteer German team from the Friends of Waldorf Education has been working in the refugee camp, she rarely leaves the side of the mission leader. He could only guess at all that the Yazidi girl, who fled from the Sinjar mountain region, has had to endure. She wouldn’t speak about it.

To help children like Sherin in the long-term with processing their terrible experiences, the Friends of Waldorf Education in cooperation with UNICEF have installed nine local educators and set up a local office in northern Iraq. The German volunteers were on site from 29 May until 12 June to train the local team. The emergency education team was made up of experienced art therapists, teachers of experiential education, Waldorf pre-school teachers and a special needs teacher.

This is not the first time that the Friends of Waldorf Education have been active in the region. They have been involved with providing emergency education in the autonomous region of Kurdistan since 2013.

Emotional wounds

After violent events, emotional wounds come in addition to physical ones; most weigh heavily on the soul. Many of those affected lose their inner balance and become ill with post-traumatic stress disorders. The Friends of Waldorf Education work with Waldorf educational methods and related forms of therapy to support the processing of these terrible experiences.

At the same time the self-healing power of those affected is activated. To this end, exercises of experiential education help to strengthen trust in oneself and one’s fellow human beings. Movement games dissolve inner inertia. Painting therapy exercises create opportunities for non-verbal expression through which distance from the terrible experiences can be created.

In the mornings, the emergency education team together with the local team worked with about 770 traumatised children in four UNICEF schools. At the same time, the work with the children served as part of the practical training of the local teachers.

The workshops were discussed and analysed in preparatory and follow-up discussions. Gradually the management of the therapeutic provision was transferred into the hands of the Iraqi colleagues. In the afternoons, the training of the local team continued in workshops designed to deepen understanding of the methods used. The traumatisation of the local team was also discussed and handled using emergency education methods.


After the terrible experiences of fleeing from their homes, the living conditions in the refugee camp are an additional burden for all its residents. With temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius, the heat in the tents was already intolerable early in the morning. But the residents have nowhere else to go, nowhere to cool down. Running water and electricity are only sporadically available.

In the absence of perspectives for the future, the refugees are unable to break free from their victim roles. The teachers of the UNICEF schools themselves feel powerless. For this reason, further training in the methods of emergency education was also offered to them. Here the basic knowledge gained during the last mission in March of this year could be built upon. For many of the teachers the most important thing was how to deal with their pupils’ aggressive and destructive behaviour.

In workshops, the teachers received an explanation of the trauma-related behavioural changes in the children and possible educational solutions were discussed. In this way the teachers were themselves strengthened and they were able to achieve more stable lessons.

Supporting parents

Parents were also offered advice. Over 100 mothers and fathers were informed about the effects of traumatisation on their children, about possible stress reactions and how to provide a supportive and stabilizing environment.

At the end of the German team’s emergency education mission, the work was taken over by the local teachers. They will be supported in the future by a project leader who will coordinate the work on the ground. The German team may have gone, but Sherin has not been left to cope with her trauma alone.


Account for donations for emergency education:

GLS Bank, Bochum, Germany. IBAN: DE06 4306 0967 0800 8007 00, BIC: GENODEM1GLS, reference: "Notfallpädagogik"

Item: 150702-02EN Date: 2 July 2015

Copyright 2015 News Network Anthroposophy Limited. All rights reserved.