Cambodia: MSF organises counselling after school hostage drama

"Talking with others who were part of the same crisis, under professional guidance from people who speak the language and know the culture, is an important first step towards recovery," said MSF's Nicolai.

Following the hostage crisis in the international school of Siem Reap, in northwest Cambodia, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has initiated a counselling project for school children, their parents and school staff, to help them cope with their traumatic experiences during the siege.

For this service, MSF works with the Belgian Technical Cooperation who were already present in Siem Reap hospital. The actual counselling is done by staff of two Cambodian non-governmental organisations, TPO and SSC.

"The activities started this morning and in the course of the day around 30 children and 20 parents have come to see the counsellors," said Richard Veerman, the MSF Head of Mission in Cambodia.

"We have found a restaurant in the town centre with a garden that now serves as a counselling centre. We will keep this open at least till Sunday. In the meantime, we will discuss with the other organisations involved how to organise mental health support for the weeks to come."

Immediately after the hostage crisis started, MSF began coordination of a blood donation centre in the provincial hospital of Siem Reap. The plan was to also prepare hospital wards for potential victims, but the siege in the school ended before work on the wards began. Offering psychological support was also foreseen from the start.

"We know how important it is that people who have lived through horrific events are encouraged to talk about it as soon as possible," said MSF's Operational Director, Meinie Nicolai. "The sooner people understand that their stress symptoms are a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, the more they will be able to deal with what they've gone through.

"Talking with others who were part of the same crisis, under professional guidance from people who speak the language and know the culture, is an important first step towards recovery."

MSF has projects for fighting malaria and supporting people with chronic diseases in Cambodia. Particularly as part of its HIV-AIDS work, MSF has gained important experience in providing counselling to Cambodians. Several staff members of TPO and SSC have previous experience with providing psychological support to children.