Combat PTSD by Breathing and Beading

Murder, Rape, Beatings, Enslavement, Hunger, Female Genital Mutilation — such horrors have been common place in war-torn Sudan for decades. Most Southern Sudanese women carry the heavy burden of such memories, either as witnesses or as victims.

Chronic depression, fear, sleeplessness, headaches, nightmares and alienation from loved ones are the all too frequent consequences. Competent professional mental health counseling for traumatized people is virtually non-existent in South Sudan.

Every one of the women in the breathing and beading group has a story. Abuk ran and was hiding when she heard two of her sisters and two brothers shot and killed. Ayak’s mother was sliced in front of her. Agul saw four people killed in front of her including a brother-in-law who she loved dearly. Most of the women saw their villages burned and people taken to slavery in the North or killed.

But there is hope. Relief from the oppressive symptoms of trauma can be achieved through the tension and relaxation produced by the regular practice of breathing exercises. They are simple and can be performed by almost everyone, almost everywhere.

Survivor Hearts

Ayak Ajou: Enslaved for two years. Witnessed murder by hacking of her mother. Brother escaped
and rescued her.

Survivor Hearts

Abuk saw nine people shot and killed in front of her house during the war.

But there is hope. Relief from the oppressive symptoms of trauma can be achieved through the tension and relaxation produced by the regular practice of breathing exercises. They are simple and can be performed by almost everyone, almost everywhere.

In 2009, CSI’s field physician, Dr. Luka Deng Kur, established a pilot project at his clinic in Wanyjok, South Sudan. He identified 38 women who exhibited symptoms of war-related post-traumatic stress. Dr. Luka began by introducing the traumatized women to “Coherent Breathing,” a program using a specific system of five breaths per minute, developed by Steve Elliot, together with Drs. Patricia Gerbarg and Richard Brown. Two standardized measures of PTSD were taken at the beginning of the program and are used at regular intervals to assess the progress made by participants. The results were encouraging.

Dr. Brown and Dr. Gerbarg’s program evaluation statistics showed an improvement of overall mood of 48% from the beginning of the program and an improvement of symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress of 65%. As the program continues, women see more improvement with women telling Dr. Luka Deng Kur that they are no longer running ou of their huts from bad dreams or reliving the trauma on a daily basis.

But there is more. Women in the program have begun a small handicraft business making pendants – “Hearts for Africa” – from Swarovski glass beads. They were trained by folk singer Kate Taylor. The program allows women to become income earners to their families and to purchase food on a weekly basis.

As part of CSI’s commitment to helping women become self-sustaining, each participant was also given a she goat for milk production as well as to reproduce. A female goat can give a liter a day to a family, often making a vital difference between malnutrition and health.

Help our Survivor Heart program and the amazing South Sudanese women who have endured so much.