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Bragin, M. (2012). So That Our Dreams Will Not Escape Us: Learning to Think Together in Time of War. Psychoanal. Inq., 32(2):115-135.

(2012). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 32(2):115-135

So That Our Dreams Will Not Escape Us: Learning to Think Together in Time of War

Martha Bragin

Armed conflict creates situations that tear at the fabric of life, affecting both emotional and material circumstances. Far from being confined to one brief, traumatic moment, most armed conflicts today go on for an indeterminate number of years. Yet, children are engaged in a dynamic process of development. That process doesn't hold still and wait for better times. The challenge to all concerned with child development is to find ways to assist communities and families to enable their children to grow up properly in time of war.

When children are asked to name their own priorities, attending school is at the top of the list. Children associate school success with a hopeful future. But when they have been exposed to the most extreme forms of violence, they often find that the very same mental mechanisms that have allowed them to endure prevent them from using what they have experienced, making learning impossible. Further, their teachers have also been exposed to the horrors of war.

Extremely violent experiences are remembered differently, held in the mind without symbolic representation and are not held to the internal scrutiny of reflective functioning. Education programs that attempt to support mentalization may call up unexpected levels of resistance as the young minds unconsciously struggle to keep terrifying meanings away.

However, by combining traditional healing with reparative activity, the Ministry of Education and Sports (MOES) of Uganda was able to create conditions for Acholi children abducted as child soldiers, even those who had seen parents and siblings killed before their eyes, to be able to tolerate the possibility of thinking. By addressing this fear first, the MOES has been able to embed relational principles into the fabric of its program so that in the midst of war, teachers can teach, children can learn, and adolescents can have hope that their dreams will not escape them.

In wars, we suffer from and witness some of the worst forms of violence committed against us and the people we love. Some of us have been born in the midst of this violence. It has become a way of life.

We believe that education is essential to our future and that we have a right to dream of a better life. (However) even if we go (to school) we have a hard time concentrating because we keep thinking about what happened to us and our relatives.

But when we lose months or years of school because of war, we worry that our dreams will escape us. When we should be learning, we are growing up in ignorance. As a result of this ignorance comes

lack of hope. (Voices of Young People From Conflict Zones, From a Report by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflict and UNICEF 2009)

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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