Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Counselling traumatised children

In principle I’m a positive and hopeful person. But when I look at the children in Swaziland, there are times when I do find that I feel a bit hopeless. Of the 947,000 people in Swaziland (according to the latest census), 95,000 are orphans. That’s 10% of the entire population! These are children growing up without a mother to take care of them, doing all the normal stuff that mothers do for children. In most cases they also grow up without a father. In Swaziland, as in most of Africa, orphans are defined as children without a mother. If the father had died and the mother is still alive, then the child is not officially an orphan. If both parents are dead they refer to a double orphan.
I was speaking to one of my Swazi friends this afternoon and discussing the situation in the country with him. The question I asked him is what these children growing up without parents will turn out to be when they get into their late teens. Psychologists have long realised the effects that a parent’s death has on a child, especially in their early teens. Now we are confronted not with a few children losing a parent, but thousands of children losing not only one but often both parents, as well as their brothers and sisters, their in-laws, their grandparents, their neighbours, their friends….
Today we started with a course specifically aimed at teaching a number of our caregivers to determine whether children had been traumatised and then to teach them how to counsel these children. Although the Swazi people in general love their children, very few are capable to counsel children who had been traumatised. I’m surprised to see how difficult it is for people who have an advanced education to see that their own children had been traumatised. How much more difficult for people who very often had only had very basic school training? One of the methods used with small children to encourage them to speak about their feelings is by using a box filled with sand and then to supply a huge number of characters, vehicles, houses, animals and other items, all drawn on paper, cut out and glued onto twigs broken from trees. (It is essential that people are not brought under the impression that you need all kinds of special and expensive equipment before you can connect with a child.) The child is then encouraged to use any of the items to build something in the sand. Once they’re through, the caregiver will ask the child to explain what he or she had done. Things which may then come out for example are that there may be many child figures but no adults. A gentle conversation may then reveal why there are no adults. Sometimes they will include very flashy cars and in the conversation it may become clear that they believe that money will be the solution to all their problems.
The training is being done by specialised staff from the Petra College for Children’s Ministry in South Africa. If you are interested in more information about them or would like to contact them to find out what they can do to help you with a children’s ministry, click here.


Monday, March 3, 2008 - Posted by | Africa, Building relations, Church, Culture, Death, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Poverty, Swaziland


  1. Arnau,
    I feel badly that I haven’t been able to ready all your blog articles. I’ve been buried in work. I was able to read this article, though, and although the work must feel overwhelming, it is wonderful to see that your church isn’t waiting on some eminent psychologist, etc. to come in and deal with it. Rather, you are equipping the people in the church and community to help one another. Excellent! I work with trauma victims and you are absolutely right, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to bring healing and wholeness to a person. What they need is to be able to feel safe, talk with a safe, understanding person and get in touch with their emotions, thoughts and hopes for the future. I love the sandbox idea. What a great way for the children to “play”, but let their inner selves come out. I am always impressed by what you are doing in Swaziland.

    Comment by Maya | Tuesday, March 4, 2008 | Reply

  2. What is really amazing is how God is connecting us with people with knowledge and abilities that we don’t have and who are willing to share this with us. I spoke to the person in charge of this course yesterday and she told me that a lot of the stuff that she’s teaching lies on a post-graduate level. They leave out all the theory and just teach the caregivers to implement the methods and it really seems to work.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, March 6, 2008 | Reply

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