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St. Louis nonprofit offers therapy to refugee women who suffer from PTSD, other traumas

English student with mentor .jpg
Oasis International
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An Oasis International volunteer mentors an Afghan refugee during a recent session. The nonprofit provides education courses, clothing, housing supplies and other services to refugees in the area. The organization is expanding its services to provide mental health to help Afghan and Syrian women cope with trauma.

Many women from war-torn countries suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and other mental health illnesses and do not receive therapy.

Oasis International, a St. Louis nonprofit, intends to help women who fled conflict in Afghanistan and Syria and resettled in the region cope with that trauma with a free group therapy session on Thursday. The 10:30 a.m. session will take place at 5035 Gravois Ave.

Many women refugees suffer from trauma in silence, said Joani Akers, the organization’s co-founder.

“American women are much more aware of their need to take care of themselves,” Akers said. “But a lot of women from other cultures don't even feel like they should do that, they feel like that wouldn't be right.”

The therapy session will include conversations with licensed counselors about what PTSD is and how to recognize its symptoms. Therapists also will provide tips and exercises to help the women cope with trauma and other mental health illnesses.

Oasis International provides furniture, clothing, education classes and other services to refugees. Its officials wanted to provide women with therapeutic sessions after hearing some of their horrific childhood and adult experiences while living in a war-torn country.

Akers said some Afghan refugee women shared frightening memories of child abuse, strict upbringings and stories about how they had to abruptly flee their homelands to escape war violence. Many are in a constant state of fear in their new hometowns.

“They get here, and there's tons more stress now," she said. "So they almost have to put all that other stuff that happened to them on the back burner.”

According to the United Nations, about two Afghan women commit suicide every day.

“They've experienced things that most of us will never experience in our life, that they're, they are in a constant state of fear, and in danger,” said Valerie Hays, a counselor with the Parkway School District.

Hays, a volunteer for Oasis International, said many refugees who come to St. Louis do not speak English, have no connections to the city and have no one to trust. That makes them fear for their safety and puts stress on their bodies.

“So often when someone experiences the amount of trauma that some of these women have experienced, hope is very hard for them to find ‘cause they're just trying to survive,” she said.

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

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