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A Call to care

Hamza addresses Syrian crisis in Distinguished Faculty Lecture

M.K. Hamza, professor of clinical mental health counseling, presents the Distinguished Faculty Lecture, “When the World Stopped Caring,” Tuesday, in the University Theatre. UP photo by Cade Smith
M.K. Hamza, professor of clinical mental health counseling, presents the Distinguished Faculty Lecture, “When the World Stopped Caring,” Tuesday, in the University Theatre. UP photo by Cade Smith

M.K Hamza, professor of clinical mental health counseling, presented “When the World Stopped Caring,” the 2018 Lamar University Distinguished Faculty Lecture, Tuesday, in the University Theatre. The lecture aims to bring attention to the ongoing crisis in Syria, and the effects of Human Devastation Syndrome, especially on children.

During the lecture, volunteers from the Syrian American Medical Foundation connected through video conferencing and told stories of their time in Syria and how it changed the way they view the world.

“This topic is probably the hardest topic for me to talk about, Hamza said, but we decided those that whoever wanted to help should tell the story.

“All the cave hospitals (in Syria) were destroyed by Russian and Iranian Air Force, they were able to locate and penetrate them even though they were eight meters underground. It’s not a war, it’s genocide. People have been slaughtered, killed and destroyed for what they believe in, their ideologies, and for who they are.”

South African doctor Roseanne Simmons said that in some parts of Syria, people are so hungry they eat leaves and eventually starve to death.

“In Syria, my eyes were opened to unfathomable evil and, in my opinion, unprecedented suffering,” Simmons said “Their bakeries and homes are bombed relentlessly, and they are pummeled with chemical weapons and can escape nowhere. These are things that Syrians have been through. It makes previous wars look tame.

“Sadly the comfort the Syrians were looking for was not forthcoming. A friend of mine said to me, ‘We Syrians have been killed twice first by the war that is happening in our country and second by the silence of the world.’”

It was a war on stomachs — it is hell on earth, Hamza said.

“There was an area which hosted about 160,000 Palestinian Syrians for over three years,” he said. “They were bombarded with every weapon you can think of, and after that they were denied food. The people would boil grass and eat cats. This war can break humanity and humans.”

There were 198 chemical weapons — including sarin and chlorine gas — attacks between 2011 and 2017, Hamza said.

“The chemical attacks are incredible,” he said. “The sarin is twenty times more deadly than cyanide. The chlorine is not as deadly, but within minutes you will not be able to breathe and if not treated you will die. A lot of people try to run away, but there are a large number of children that die.

“One child witnessed her entire family being killed. Her dad was taken by Iranian militants and they simply slaughtered him. Her mom was raped repeatedly until she passed. The next day, the militants took her to school and ridiculed the teachers and the teaching. The militants hit her and her friends in the back of the head. A male teacher came to her rescue, and simply what they did was tie his neck with two ropes and kept pulling and pulling until he died. There was a female teacher that came in the classroom to come rescue the children. They took the teacher, poured gas on her, and burned her alive.”

As a result of the conflict, millions of children are not being educated, Hamza said.

Connecticut physician Ammar Traboulsi, SAM vice chair, told a story of visiting a group of children in Jordan.

“A ten year old girl stayed in the room. When I asked her what grade she was in she said, ‘They don’t have a chair for me in the school but my mom is buying me a chair, so hopefully I will be in school soon.’ I cried,” Traboulsi said.

Hamza said it is the children who are losing the most.

“One girl drew a picture of a casket and said she couldn’t wait to die,” he said, “The children talk about their love for Syria, how they miss their parents and their friends that have been killed. Can you imagine your child living like this? The children have a negative self-complex, a continuous sense of an ever present threat, and worst of all, dissociation. We see a detachment from reality, not as a loss, but as, ‘I know what’s going on but I am not going to face it.’”

In her introduction, Dorothy Sisk, of LU’s department of teacher education, said Hamza developed identified devastation syndrome to build awareness of what’s going on in Syria. It is primarily looking at the complex interactions and problems that come along with being a refugee.

“The human devastation syndrome is way beyond post traumatic stress disorder — HSD is like PTSD on steroids,” Hamza said. “Usually, in PTSD, you are exposed to a traumatic event and then you have time to cope. But we are talking about eight years repeated, systematic, repetitive injuries. The ones who receive the most psychological injuries are the children.”

Hamza said how one deals with trauma depends on how one makes sense of the events, how one perceives them, and how one determines them.

“Three areas in the brain are impacted by childhood trauma,” he said, “Those areas of the brain that consolidate and create memory, make decisions and create fears. When we talk about PTSD, we have gone over every problem, plus. We realize that the new trauma is severe, repeated, accumulative, and causes significant psychological injuries and a multitude of disorders.”

Hamza said we all have our owns tool of how we want to advocate for humanity.

“We are all sisters, brothers, mothers, aunts and uncles of humanity,” he said. “We are connected under one race— humanity. If you kill one human, or ten or a hundred thousand, does it really matter when humanity is being destroyed?

Hamza said one refugee asked him, “If you have one percent chance of survival would you escape? That’s what we are doing.”

Story by Tiana Johnson, UP contributor

Category: News