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Caregivers confront 9/11 'shadows'

BY SUSAN KIM | HARRISONBURG, VA | September 7, 2002

"They don't have the luxury of having post-traumatic stress because the trauma continues."

—Carolyn Yoder

Once a month 20 people gather in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to confront post-9/11 shadows.

They start off talking about the emotional and spiritual effects of watching the World Trade Center crumple.

They end up with a small but mighty peace-building effort that is spreading across the globe, said Carolyn Yoder, director of Seminars in Trauma Awareness and Recovery (STAR) at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

Created in the aftermath of 9/11 and sponsored by Church World Service (CWS), the weeklong STAR program is a monthly gathering of 20 clergy and laypersons. With a different ethnic and religious mix of participants each time, STAR helps spiritual leaders relate in a time when anger is running high.

As people prepare to mark the year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, unexpressed emotions could spring to the surface for communities across the world.

How can 20 people -- 16 from the U.S. and four from overseas -- meeting and talking for only a week hope to squelch flames of anger that seem to be fed by a increasingly complex media?

By taking their ideas back home and spreading them, said Yoder.

They may come from opposite sides of the world but they're all there because, in the post-9/11 era, they face the possibility of burnout as caregivers.

The overseas participants -- from conflict-ridden places such as Colombia, the West Bank, Northern Ireland, and Pakistan -- help U.S. caregivers gain perspective.

"It has been wonderful to have the combination of people from the U.S. and overseas, because many of the overseas participants are a reminder that some people live with this kind of thing constantly.

"They don't have the luxury of having post-traumatic stress because the trauma continues," she said.

As time continues to pass following the terrorist attacks, some of the after-effects are still kicking in the U.S. Spiritual caregivers -- clergy, church members and neighbors -- have been ministering for a year with no end in sight.

Sept. 11 recovery is only just beginning for some. New York City now has 83,000 fewer jobs than before Sept. 11 and a report released this week by the city comptroller estimated that 63,000 jobs that would have been created as the city recovered from a downturn also have been lost.

The report estimates that, as jobs shift out of New York City, the attacks could cost the city up to $95 billion.

Immigrant communities -- especially those whose head of household worked in the service industry -- have been hit particularly hard with job loss and financial ruin.

An upcoming STAR week in December will be offered only in Spanish, said Yoder.

So far the U.S.-based STAR participants have been mainly clergy and laypersons from New York and New Jersey, she said.

CWS has also conducted shorter programs -- modeled after STAR -- in New York City for on-the-scene caregivers there.

The ultimate goal for STAR participants is to take what they've learned back to the local level, said Yoder. Once enough people do this, peace-building efforts will spread.

It's a daunting challenge considering the volatile mixture of global feelings in the wake of 9/11. A poll released this week found that 55 percent of Europeans think U.S. foreign policy contributed to the tragic events of Sept. 11.

The highest percentage of those who thought the U.S. should blame itself for the attacks was in France, at 63 percent, while the lowest was in Italy, at 51 percent.

Nonetheless, 59 percent of Europeans think America's overseas conduct since the attacks is aimed mostly at protecting itself, rather than enforcing its own will around the globe.

The survey was undertaken jointly by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (CCFR). People in France, Germany, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland were questioned.

Given these complex worldwide opinions, the STAR program starts out simply enough by simply reviewing trauma itself. Participants learn about a human's physical, emotional, and spiritual response. "When it comes to trauma, how does our brain work?" asked Yoder.

Using a training model put to use in former Yugoslavia, participants then explore what unhealed trauma does to individuals and societies. "The instinctual brain wants revenge," said Yoder, alluding to many people's reactions immediately after 9/11. "Unless we work through trauma in a healthy way we end up acting it out in really negative ways, at both individual and societal levels."

Besides STAR there are other global efforts underway to bring people together on the year anniversary of Sept. 11. More than 15,000 musicians and singers from around the world will participate in a "Rolling Requiem" in which they perform Mozart's famous Requiem in honor of those who died.

The first concerts will begin in New Zealand and will roll for 24 hours across the globe.

Whether they draw together through music or spiritual reflection, by looking closely at anger, people can eventually examine the roots of violence, explained Yoder. "This leads to issues of justice. The STAR program is peace-building work by the end of the week. On a very deep level it's training people to become spiritual caregivers. It's hard work."

When people return to their home communities, they have a sort of spiritual map to guide them. "When trauma happens you flail around," said Yoder. "This training can provide a grounding."

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