Healing the Wounds Following Protracted
Conflict in Angola: A Community-Based
Approach to Assisting War-affected Children
Michael G. Wessells
Randolph-Macon College & Christian Children's Fund
Christian Children's Fund/Angola
In the last several decades, a significant shift has occurred in the global pattern of armed conflict. Since the late 1980s, approximately 25 to 30 intrastate wars have occurred each year, whereas the frequency of interstate wars declined to a level near zero (Eriksson, Sollenberg, & Wallensteen, 2002). Intrastate conflicts take a profound toll on civilians (Wessells, 1998a). As evidenced by the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Somalia, and Rwanda, fighting occurs increasingly not on well-defined battlefields, but in and around communities. Often it involves personalized acts of violence, rapes and other atrocities committed by former neighbors, and ethnic cleansing and genocide. As a result, the war-related civilian death rate has risen sharply. In the early part of this century and in previous centuries, it is estimated that civilians comprised approximately 20 percent of war-related deaths. By the 1990s, however, civilians comprised nearly 90 percent of war-related deaths (Garfield & Neugut, 1997; Sivard, 1996; UNICEF, 1996).
Associated with this changed pattern of warfare is sharply increased psychological fallout for civilian populations. Intercommunal fighting shatters social trust, and following the fighting, there remain deeply divided societies in which one's neighbors may be people who had done horrible things during the war. Trauma occurs on a large scale, as many civilians are subjected to attack, loss, uprooting, and human rights violations. The attack on homes and communities disrupts daily routines and ruptures people's sense of normalcy and continuity. Large numbers of landmines may make it impossible to return home or to resume agriculture, which for many people in the developing world is both traditional and necessary for survival. Nearly 40 percent of contemporary conflicts have lasted 10 or more years (Smith, 1997), and these protracted conflicts devastate infrastructure, amplify already severe poverty and social injustice, and create hopelessness. Although any one of these problems could have profound psychological impact, it is the accumulation of multiple, chronic stresses that poses the gravest psychological risk to civilian populations (Garbarino & Kostelny, 1996; Straker, 1987). In many areas, violence becomes normalized and saturates various social levels from family to community and society. Worldwide, approximately 300,000 youth get drawn into soldiering, typically by desperation, victimization, and force (Brett & McCallin, 1996; Cohn & Goodwin-Gill, 1994). These