Trauma Relief for the Suffering Solomons

Church-Funded Project Offers Psychology in the South Pacific

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HONIARA, Solomon Islands, JAN. 26, 2004 ( Caritas-Australia and the Honiara Archdiocese are funding a program to train people in psychology to help those traumatized in the violence-racked Solomon Islands.

Two years of ethnic conflict, followed by another three of abuses and violence by criminals acting like warlords, have left wounds on the bodies and souls of the people of Weathercoast, in the southern part of the island of Guadalcanal.

In response, Caritas-Australia, with the support of the Archdiocese of Honiara, has financed a project to start a series of courses to teach priests, missionaries and lay people, working in pastoral care, the basic elements of a psychotherapeutic approach: the ability to listen, to ask the right questions, and to analyze body language.

The skills will eventually be taught to members of the local communities so that they can recognize and assist people manifesting post-traumatic symptoms.

Two clinical psychologists, Patrick and Bernice Rasmussen, are supervising the four-year project. The couple hope that local people will be trained to understand and respond to the needs of those still suffering as a result of the tension.

For three years, Harold Keke and his men, a fringe of the rebel Isatabu Liberation Movement, which did not accept the Townsville peace agreements of 2000, have terrorized the inhabitants of Weathercoast with murder, rape, kidnapping and arson. At least 1,000 people had to flee to refugee camps near the capital, Honiara.

An international force was sent last July to the archipelago to re-establish law. Led by Australia, its objective was to put an end to four years of war between militias of Guadalcanal and Malaita.

Keke surrendered last August and is on trial together with some of his lieutenants. Among their victims were six Anglican missionaries, whose kidnapping and death was confirmed that month, and Father Augustine Geve, a government Minister, according to authorities.

The emigration of people from Malaita to neighboring Guadalcanal was not welcomed by the inhabitants of the latter, the key island of the archipelago that lies east of Papua New Guinea.

Ethnic rivalry caused the creation of militias in the two Islands. This marked the start of a civil war that, in June 2000, led to a coup d’etat that deposed Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa. In October 2000, the parties in conflict signed a peace agreement.

But Keke, leader of the Guadalcanal Liberation Front, retracted a few months later and returned to arms.

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