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Life after trauma

Roblyn Lewter, Ph.D., has worked around the globe, but a qualitative research project earlier this year working with Yazidi refugees who’d escaped captivity for the safety of Germany left a lasting impression.

In parts of the Middle East, militant extremists tied to ISIS have been holding captive Yazidi women and children—inflicting sexual violence, forcing marriages and involuntary abortions, and pushing young children to pick up arms and fight on their behalf. Many haven’t been able to escape. And for those who have, the physical and emotional scars are overwhelming. One 17-year-old girl named Yasmin even doused herself in gasoline and lit a match after being fed up with being raped or abused. The flames burned her hair and face, peeling away her nose, lips, and ears.

The German state of Baden-Württemberg and Dr. Jan Ilhan Kizilhan, a German psychologist, finally took the initiative to do something to help these women and children. A three-year stabilization program, funded with $100 million, was set in order to help women and children escape and resettle in Germany.

Roblyn Lewter, Ph.D.

International Psychology alumna Roblyn Lewter, Ph.D., a senior consultant with Hardwired, Inc., had been working on human rights consulting when she was contacted about the Yazidi escapees.

A total of 1,100 women and girls ages 4 to 56 were housed in undisclosed locations around Germany, where security was available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The women were then provided with temporary resettlement and skills stabilization. They could still have visitors, freely leave to return home, and had unrestricted cell phone and internet usage. They were responsible for their own safety on evenings and weekends, and relied on one another as a support system. In the home that Dr. Lewter was given access to, which housed 30 of these women, there was a 24/7 security guard.

“Unfortunately, some of these women had faced extreme trauma—raped multiple times, including in front of their own children,” Dr. Lewter says. “Their children had also been raped. Other women had no idea if their children were dead or alive, being held in captivity by ISIS, or had just gone missing.”

In the two weeks that Dr. Lewter was in Germany, she often found herself troubled by the lack of trauma resolution sessions, inconsistent psychological therapy sessions, no replacement for the child therapist who had turned in her resignation, and clinicians who were overwhelmed and lacked clinical supervision.

“The program was not perfect,” Dr. Lewter says. “But one thing I must always remind myself of is cultural intelligence. As an international psychologist, I have to continuously check myself on viewing global programs through the lens of an American.”

She does admit that from a stabilization perspective, the treatment program was “incredible because it allowed these women and children an opportunity to leave a state of crisis for someplace that was relatively safer.”

The Yazidi escapees were also provided with dance therapy classes, school enrollment for the children, lessons on learning how to coordinate doctor’s visits, and interfacing with teachers.

And while Lewter had to take into consideration her own American hang-ups about the health care system, that has not stopped her from continuing on with her goal of providing human rights and religious freedom training through Hardwired’s other contracts such as the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy (MCFHRD) sponsored by the British government. The goal is to help communities address the root causes of religious extremism and build societies that embrace tolerance.

With another Hardwired program “Young Defenders of Freedom: Developing Safe Havens Through Education” in Iraq, teachers are using creative ways to help children avoid intolerance and oppression.

Before Roblyn Lewter was Dr. Roblyn Lewter, she knew nothing about The Chicago School of Professional Psychology nor that there was such a thing as an international psychologist. But a simple search on Google for “Ph.D.” and “international psychology” directed her to TCSPP, and she hit the ball running. Her educational and professional background lead her to complete in-person presentations in Canada, the Caribbean, Iraq, Israel, Malta, Nepal, Prague, South Africa, and twice in Turkey.

“I am so proud to be able to work on projects such as these with the help of my international psychology degree,” Lewter says. “We are at the height of globalization, and it is important that people are trained to be global workers and understand concepts like cultural intelligence and cross-cultural competency. The Chicago School understands that we are in a technology phase where education has to be readily available. What excites me about the international psychology program is it trains global citizens to understand how to walk the walk in their field. And when we do, we can teach the next generation of global professionals.”

Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Shamontiel L. Vaughn joined TCS Education System’s Marketing Department as the Editorial Writer in February 2017. She has previously worked in digital media with the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Defender, CBS Chicago, and Sun Times Network.

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