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How art helps Iraqi refugee children overcome their trauma

21 November 2017
Art therapy photo 1

Iraqi refugee children in Jordan are being helped to process their trauma and heartache with trauma therapy art classes. At first the children’s paintings are dark and full of anger but gradually they become colourful and lively.

“Many of these kids saw IS take down the crosses from their churches and it influenced them a lot,” said Maran, the founder of Al Hadaf, an Open Doors supported organisation running trauma therapy art classes.

“When these kids visit the art class for the first time we ask them, ‘what is the thing you miss most from Iraq now that you live here?’ Almost all of them draw their church,” said Maran. “They used to go to church on a regular basis in Iraq, and they loved it. It’s the place where they socialized.”

What struck Maran most is that the first paintings the children draw always seem to include large black figures. “The dark figures represent IS and other evils the children had to endure,” Maran said. “After a while, we see the children’s paintings becoming more clear, bright and detailed, and the dark figures become smaller or disappear. This is a sign the children are processing their trauma.”

Every £30 could help provide trauma care to a child who has been attacked for being from a Christian family.

On the wall of the art room is a painting of a tree and a large pink heart that is special to Maran. “This girl was so hurt that she would hardly communicate at all. She just drew a tree and a large heart. She said, ‘I just miss my home.’ The tree represents her home; the heart is her pain. It broke my heart when I saw it – the truth in its simplicity.”

Art therapy photo 2


The next step in the programme is enabling the children to talk to their parents about their feelings. “Because the mum is traumatised, the kids are also traumatised,” Maran said. “There are a lot of mood swings going on in these families. The mother gets mad at the kids, the kids get mad at the mother, and they can’t communicate well about it. In some cases, the mothers feel so powerless that they start beating their children.”

A simple tool the programme uses to help the parents and children understand each other’s feelings better is a Mood Clock that the children make. “Every day they can set it to their mood. Either they are happy, okay, sad or mad.”

“Even some mothers are using it now to show to their children, ‘Today mummy is sad. I don’t know why, but please give me some space,’” said Maran.


At the end of the programme the children make Goals Cloud. “When we’ve been through processing and talking about the trauma, we move on to the goals. We ask the kids to set goals for themselves they can work on. We replace the sadness and anger with good things. The kids put this by their bed so they can use it every day. It does not cost a lot, but it sure helps a lot.”

Art therapy photo 3

One Goal Cloud which hangs on the wall of the art therapy room has five goals written neatly on it. It says, 'I want to pray more. I want to draw more. I want to help my parents. I want to listen to what’s been said to me. I want to start reading a book.'

Every £30 could help provide trauma care to a child who has been attacked for being from a Christian family.


Open Doors has launched a global, seven-year campaign to mobilise Christians to bring hope to the Middle East. 

A global petition of over 800,000 signatures helped us to secure key meetings with the UN and the UK government – including a meeting with the UK Prime Minister – and these meetings are already beginning to bear fruit. But the challenges faced by our brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq will not be solved overnight. Open Doors is committed to walking with them for as long as they need. 

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  • For energy for Maran and the team as they run the trauma therapy program
  • Thank God that these children are able to process their trauma and replace their anger with good things
  • That after years of war, there would be a lasting peace in Iraq.

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