Teachers from Oklahoma, Bosnia Learn to Ease Trauma

Article excerpt

Vickie Marshall and Tarik Obralic, both teachers, are plagued by simple but unanswerable questions from students who have witnessed death.

The questions are the same, although they come from the distant worlds of Oklahoma City and Sarajevo: Why did children have to die? How could someone do that to a child? Why did my parent have to die?

"These are questions to which we cannot give answers," said Obralic. "The children don't know why it is happening, and we really don't know why either."

But the two teachers - Marshall from Oklahoma City, Obralic from Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina - say they are determined to find ways to ease their students' pain. That's why they came to an intensive, one-month course in trauma psychology that began Friday at the University of Missouri. They were joined by seven other teachers from Oklahoma City and 17 other Bosnian teachers and mental health professionals.

"These techniques are already helping Bosnian children," said Dr. Arshad Husain, an MU psychiatrist who directs the program at the university's International Training Center in Trauma Psychology. "We propose to train these teachers, and they will go back to Bosnia and Oklahoma to train other teachers."

Marshall, 37, teaches fifth grade at the Telstar Elementary School in Oklahoma City. Obralic, 40, heads the Edhem Mulabdic school in Sarajevo and directs teacher education in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Students at his school are in elementary and middle-school grades.

Marshall's school is about 15 miles from the site of the demolished federal building. The explosion made a deafening noise in her classroom, shook the floor and seemed to bend the windows. The children still shudder when planes from nearby Tinker Air Force Base pass overhead. They never paid attention to planes before.

They also constantly hug teddy bears sent by well-wishers. When she disappears from sight, the students complain and say they are afraid.

"They're not suffering just grief," she said. "It's an insecurity and sort of a suspecting attitude."

The children are well aware of what is happening to the children of Bosnia. "When they hear reports about Bosnian children getting hurt, they seem to zero in on that," Marshall said.

The war in Bosnia is Oklahoma City a thousand times over, said Husain and the teachers. …