The worst thing that can happen to a learner is sitting in a classroom with a mind that is preoccupied with despair. Such a student will pay limited attention in class and consequently this reflects on the general performance.
Yvette Mugisha, a senior one student at GS Nkondo in Kayonza District recalls how the separation of her parents, disrupted her concentration in class.
“I used to perform well before, but after dad left us, life became difficult. Being the first born of four kids, I watched mum going through a lot just to put food on the table. This experience traumatized me and sometimes I would dodge class just to remain alone,” she recalls.
Fortunately, through the literature club, Mugisha met friends who helped her learn how to cope with such family problems.
Unlike Mugisha, some students fail to pick up their pieces after going through similar problems. Others need enhanced sessions of counseling to regain their normal life.
According to Athanasie Vuguziga, a retired teacher and a part time mentor, separation of parents, domestic violence, neglect, emotional abuse and sexual assault are some of common issues that leave children depressed and disturbed.
“With such events students lose interest in studies while others turn to drugs and alcohol to get solace,” she explains.
Vuguziga warns that without immediate support, a problem affecting one student can affect the entire class within the same school.
“If your friend is depressed all the time, it might affect you as well. Besides if one reaches that level of abusing drugs, many of their colleagues could be influenced to taste the drugs,” she adds.
Honoren Uwababyeyi, the founder of Peace and Hope Foundation, an organization that deals with traumatized students says sometimes financial challenges in a home could result into distress which in the end affects student’s concentration at school.
“Most times financial problems at home cannot be hidden, even when you try to do so, children can detect through a reduction in support you provide,” she explains.
Uwababyeyi says that opening up to a child is a better remedy to address the challenge.
“The first step is to find out the root of the problem from the student through face to face conversations. Depending on the approach, students tend to open up more towards people who give the impression that they understand their dilemma,” she says.
Also Dr Damascene Iyamuremye, a psychologist at Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC), advises teachers and guardians to watch out for warning signs exhibited by students.
“Previously active children may stop playing, eating or even refuse attending school. Some of them tend to isolate themselves from other members of the community. Even at school, they could be seen hiding behind classrooms,” he explains.
Dr Iyamuremye says that however in such situations, parents and teachers could motivate traumatized students through rewards before comforting them to open up about the problems.
“The earlier you fix the problem the better. Most likely the child could be motivated to open when you provide gifts or something which they want most,” Dr Iyamuremye advises.
Although some teachers who lack adequate training fail to deal with the issues, Diana Nawatti, the head teacher of Mother Mary Complex School in Kibagabaga says traumatized students could be helped through regular counseling.
“First you study the performance in class. If there is an alarming decline then you can investigate the problem which the student has. During this period the student should continue to receive counseling,” she explains.