By Ally Cooper
Dozens of participants turned out in late January for an online panel discussion on “Communal Trauma and Healing” that was hosted by the Maine Association for New Americans (MANA). Panelists discussed different aspects of trauma, as well as modes of healing. The discussion took place in French and English.
“Collective trauma is real, and it can happen to anyone and everywhere. It is caused by traumatic events such as genocide, war, natural disasters, mass shootings, immigration, pandemics, and more,” said panelist Yvette Unezase, MANA Project Manager. Unezase explained that trauma doesn’t just disappear when the inciting events are over. For example, “Immigrants think that because they have reached safety, the trauma [from their past] is gone – that they can’t carry those experiences with them. But this is not really the case,” she said.
In fact, immigrants have a high risk of experiencing toxic stress, which is caused by enduring long periods of stress without protective factors and enough resilience to buffer the impact, according to panelist Angela Giordano, Program Coordinator for Partners for Thriving Youth. “This could be trauma experienced before migration, during migration, or during resettlement. There could be language barriers as well as cultural barriers that may exist between the older and younger generations. There can be isolation and dislocation from community,” Giordano said.
Panelist Regina Phillips, Co-Founder of Cross-Cultural Communications Services, talked about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She emphasized that people react differently to trauma. “You can have two people get into a car accident. One person may develop PTSD as a result, and the other person may be fine. And the effects of that accident on the individual may occur immediately, or may be considerably delayed, yet have devastating effects on the individual,” she said.
Entire communities can be impacted by adverse circumstances. “We have harmful structural factors at play like racism, violence, and poverty that impacts whole communities…However, adversity is not destiny. All people can heal, thrive, and overcome hardship at any stage in their life,” Giordano said.
Panelist Zamzam Elmoge, MANA Community Wellness Partner, works to help immigrant communities heal from collective trauma. She leads MANA’s Zoom Youth Peer Support Group Girls Supporting Girls. Elmoge said she was inspired to become a resource for her community by attending Seeds of Peace Summer Camp at age 15. Seeds of Peace, located in Otisfield, brings together youth from around the world to build relationships and leadership skills with youth from diverse cultures and backgrounds –– often across various conflict zones. Elmoge started the Girls Supporting Girls group in 2020, after joining MANA.
“My target audience was immigrant youth, because I knew that in my community and in our cultures, there isn’t a lot of talking about mental health or trauma. A lot of these people, especially children, are going through trauma alone,” she said. The groups take place over Zoom because of the pandemic. “Even though it’s virtual, these girls are able to build such strong, beautiful bonds in a matter of months. At a young age, I think you need to learn that there are people who support you and understand you -– and they can be people who look just like you.”
The evening closed with Unezase reminding attendees, “You are not alone. If you are dealing with trauma, please reach out. MANA is here to support you in any way that we can.”
MANA provides multicultural and multilingual trauma-informed support through peer support groups and one-on-one sessions. Some upcoming groups include Immigrant Women Support Group, Genocide Survivors Support Group, and Immigrant Parents Support Group. Current sessions include two Youth Support Groups and one-on-one individual sessions.