Attensi’s simulation expertise helps children hurt by war
Game-playing techniques make a difference for young refugees.
Bjarne Johnson, our CCO Norway and EU, was moved by the plight of the child refugees from Syria’s civil war he saw on the news.
He knew that simulation therapy has been used to offer psychological first aid to trauma victims. He knew that Attensi had lots to offer in the field.
It sparked a collaboration with child psychologist Dr Solfrid Raknes, the Norwegian Government, publisher Gyldenal and aid workers to develop the Helping Hand app.
It uses the same techniques and technology behind the solutions we create for business learning worldwide and applies them to the specific needs of youngsters hurt and displaced by war.
It isn’t just about victims of war either. According to UNICEF, more than 1 in 7 adolescents aged 10–19 are estimated to live with a diagnosed mental disorder globally (UNICEF, 2021). Almost 46,000 die from suicide each year, among the top five causes of death for their age group.
The Syrian civil war is one among many trouble-spots where there is an urgent need for psychological interventions.
Children are embroiled in conflicts and disasters all over the planet, most recently in Ukraine.
These youngsters are crying out for support and the Helping Hand app is the way we can make our contribution, using the skills and resources at our disposal.
It is especially effective because it uses the game-playing skills and platforms which the children already know and love to help them come to terms with their experiences.
It brings familiarity to situations which are horribly unfamiliar.
What we did
Helping Hand was launched alongside aid agencies with 125 Syrian teenagers in Central Beqaa, Lebanon. The psychologist who ran the groups was also a displaced Syrian.
They all came with different stories. Some were orphans. Some had dropped out of school and couldn’t read or write. All had witnessed violence. Three in 10 had lost one or both parents. Most displayed behavioural and psychological problems, low self-confidence, had no hope for the future and were prone to use violence.
Their progress with the app was monitored over months. They also had access to support, advice and counselling as they played the game. The app was just the start. The conversations and questions it sparked were priceless in suggesting ways in which the children could deal with trauma and get on in their lives. They could look to the future not just re-live the past.
The app is also being used with Ukrainian children. More than 3m youngsters have found a haven from war in other countries, and 2.2m have been displaced inside their own borders.
It has also been used in more peaceful circumstances. Children in Norway have used Helping Hand. They do not live in a war zone. They haven’t been bombed out of their homes. But youngsters can experience trauma no matter their background, and Helping Hand is for them too.
After the launch of the project in Central Beqaa, 1,326 young Syrian refugees in Lebanon participated in studies where they received support from a psychologist, teacher, health worker or volunteer adult to use the Helping Hand.
79 teachers and health workers were trained in using Helping Hand.
Dr Raknes measured the impact of Helping Hand on the mental condition of the children who played the game. Using standard World Health Organisation metrics, after just 10 weeks there was a dramatic decrease in symptoms of depression.
Helping Hand gave them a chance to work through problems and painful experiences safely – often the first time they had been able to come to terms with the savage reality of growing up in a war zone.
They all said that the game made them feel better and helped them maker better sense of their world. Dr Raknes said that 28% of the adolescents reported what WHO classifies as ‘normal wellbeing’ before playing the game, while 99% reported normal wellbeing 10 weeks on.
The players averaged 45/100 on the WHO wellbeing index before playing the game. After the game, the figure had risen to 72 – indicating a significant, positive impact on their mental health.
The personal stories from the children themselves prove the true worth of the project in changing lives for the better.
Sidra is a 15-year-old girl whose smile lights up the room when she talks about her experience playing the game.
‘It makes you feel happy. Not sad or depressed,’ she said.
Now the challenge is to make the game available to more children, not just in Lebanon and Ukraine, but anywhere in the world.
The issue of scalability is less to do with technology, and more about building partnerships.
The app itself is easy to follow, it’s flexible and can be done anywhere, anytime. The learning can be accessed by anybody with a mobile device and an internet connection. We can roll out our learning programmes quickly, in about six weeks, even across big organisations operating across many countries.
Our aim is to find professional partners who can provide the expertise and local knowledge to make our app as accessible as possible to as many people as possible.
We took a major step forward in that mission when we were accepted as a member of the World Economic Forum’s UpLink programme. The programme unites an array of organisations which have come together to offer their services for humanitarian causes worldwide. It means many more agencies and individuals can find their way to Helping Hand and ask for our support.
Attensi is proud to play its part in shining a little kindness on youngsters who have seen too little of it in their short lives.