JRS Lebanon: Mental Health Support Helps an ISIS Survivor to Embrace Life Again

31 March 2023|JRS Lebanon

Moe* at the educational center in Bourj Hammoud.

*Trigger Warning: Violence and Child Endangerment

Moe*, an 11-year-old kid, lives with his family in Nabaa, a suburb of Beirut. They are originally from Raqqa, a Syrian town that briefly served as the headquarters of ISIS. During this time, Moe witnessed horrors that he carried with him long after his family fled Syria. We share his story as an example of the possibility of overcoming even the cruellest of circumstances when care and acceptance into a loving community are provided.

Everything started with a trip to visit the doctor. After coming down with typhoid fever, Moe’s father took him to have a health examination. Upon their return to Raqqa, ISIS detained them in Al-Sa’a Square and made them watch a stranger and his son receiving the traditional death penalty of beheading.

Moe’s father tried to prevent his son from seeing the crime at this precise moment, but he failed. “I did everything I could to keep his eyes covered, but he still saw everything,” the man said.

After two more months of further abuse and suffering, the family fled Syria in 2017. They all carried memories of violence, but Moe seemed to be particularly affected. His condition worsened day by day. He would run and hide whenever he heard fireworks, thinking that they were gunshots. He also became more reclusive, avoided speaking, and frequently had terrifying nightmares about people trying to kill him with knives.

“I see someone holding a knife and threatening to kill me every night,” Moe said. His psychological problems had a negative impact on his physical health. He developed anemia, lost weight and appetite, and developed vitiligo all over his body.

Then, his situation turned even worse when the Beirut port explosion happened on August 4, 2020. This catastrophic event impacted most of the Lebanese capital and destroyed a significant number of civilian homes, including the one where Moe and his family resided, compounding their suffering.

The sound of the explosion brought back horrifying memories of warplanes bombing Raqqa and shells raining down on them in Syria. All the fear and terror from their last days in Syria flooded back.

Moe’s younger brother was enrolled in the JRS educational centre, FVDL, in Bourj Hammoud, so the parents were aware of the free mental health support that JRS Lebanon provides to families. They then decided to take this opportunity and seek support for their child.

Hala Hafez, a JRS psychological therapist who works at Bourj Hammoud’s project, worked with Moe. After assessing the child, she found that he has both physical and psychological problems, including anxiety, phobias (panic disorder), sadness and anger, sleep disturbances, and physical disorders evidenced by his anemia and extreme weight loss.

Moe’s psychological state has significantly improved as a result of the ongoing therapy sessions. He is regained his sense of security, wants to eat again, and is learning to manage feelings of rage and sadness.

Moe underwent ongoing psychotherapy for a total of 19 sessions. Now that he has totally healed, he is living a regular life and has a stable mental health, as all children should have.

“My son has made significant progress. He no longer has nightmares. He is at ease and enjoys playing with his sisters. Thank you, JRS Lebanon, from the bottom of my heart,” said the father.

Moe is just one of the many kids who have experienced violence and displacement because of the conflict in Syria and other challenges in Lebanon, as they overcome difficulties from the past and journey towards a future full of hope. Mental health and psychosocial support will help them develop their inner resources to better deal with the systemic challenges that they encounter every day in a world beset with challenges.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.