Ari was a bright-eyed, precocious child with big brown eyes. At the young age of 5 he was full of creative ideas and imaginative scenarios. “I’m stronger than Superman!” he said with unbending confidence while whizzing around the living room of his family’s first floor apartment.
“He is obsessed with superheroes,” His older brother Amed responded.
Ari climbed on the back of the couch, put his fisted hands on his hips, puffed out his chest and with a steely smile ripped open his buttoned shirt revealing a blue t-shirt with the iconic Superman S emblazoned across the chest. “I AM STRONGER THAN SUPERMAN!” he yelled as he threw one arm in the air and jumped off the couch. He continued to run around the room, making whooshing noises and stopping every few seconds to flex his tiny arm muscles.
“We didn’t have superheroes in Kurdistan,” Amed said. “At least I don’t remember them.”
“How old were you when you left Kurdistan?” I asked.
“I was 7, Ari was 3.”
“And how long have you been in the United States?” I asked.
“A little over a year,” he replied.
At that moment Ari and Amed’s mom entered the room with a large warm disk of flatbread wrapped in towel.
“For you,” she said, handing me the bread.
Ari rushed over to grab a piece but was swatted away by his mother’s hand. She began talking to him in Arabic.
“She is telling him to act like a good boy and to stop running around,” Ahmed translated.
Ahmed was 9. He was tall for his age, slender, and very soft spoken. He and his father were the only two in the house who spoke English fluently. This meant Ahmed was often tasked with translating for the family. Sometimes he appeared to enjoy this. At other times he looked burdened.
I smiled. “Little boys are full of energy,” I said while watching Ari flex his muscles at his mother.
At that moment the loud grumbling sound of the garbage truck came in through the open window. The heavy machine wheeled in front of the house, its hydraulics let out a violent gush of air as it thrust its iron teeth into the large dumpster. The dumpster was effortlessly thrown up in the air, its content dumping into the back of the truck. hen with a whoosh and a gush it was slammed back down to earth with a loud bang.
Ari froze. The rigidness in his body was instantaneous. All super hero powers melted away. His eyes grew large and glazed over. His face contorted into that of horror. He screamed uncontrollably. The gregarious little boy was gone, and in his place the embodiment of terror.
“What is wrong?” I asked.
His mother grabbed him. Ari flailed. She pulled his head into her chest and started singing.
“Big trucks remind him of the tanks,” Ahmed said nonchalantly.
“The tanks? I asked, “What tanks?”
“He was on the playground back home when the tanks came. The soldiers shot his friends.”
Unsure of how to respond, a quiet “oh” slipped from my lips.
“They shot his friends?” I asked.
“Yes, they shot everyone. They didn’t care. They killed children. I saw lots of kids die.” Ahmed spoke with authority but without emotion.
Ari continued screaming for several more minutes as his mother sang and rocked him. The garbage truck finished emptying the dumpsters and drove away. Its loud hum resonating throughout the complex as it left. After it was gone and the usual sounds of the apartment complex returned Ari slowly calmed down.
“Bread. Eat.” His mother smiled and motioned to me and the bread she had handed me minutes before.
“She wants you to eat the bread,” Ahmed said.
“Oh yes. The bread.” I looked down at my hands. “This is the best bread.” I said looking up, half smiling. My eyes moved to Ari. The boy stronger than Superman slowly crept back to life. His eyes unglazed. He yawned, and his mother kissed the top of his head. I pointed to the S on his t-shirt. He looked down at his chest and then instinctively flexed his tiny arm in a show of power before shyly burying his head in his mother’s arm.
- What are some mental health challenges that may arise in this family? How might an educator, social worker, therapist, religious/spiritual leader, employer, etc. support them?
- What types of treatments might be helpful for this family system?
- What do you believe are the challenges and opportunities in helping this family successfully resettle in the United Stated?
- What do you see as the role of United States’ communities in immigrant and refugee resettlement – whose responsibility is it to support these families?
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)
- NCTSN’s mission is to raise the standard of care and improve access to services for traumatized children, their families and communities throughout the United States. Their website contains information for parents and caregivers, school personnel, and professionals.
The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT)
- CVT believes in the exchange of knowledge, ideas and creative strategies to heal torture survivors and inspire effective action to end torture worldwide.
Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services (BRYCS)
- BRYCS maintains the nation’s largest online collection of resources related to refugee immigrant children and families.
- vivo (victim’s voice) is an alliance of professionals experienced in the fields of psychotraumatology, international health, humanitarian aid, scientific laboratory and field research, sustainable development and human rights advocacy.