The three women highlighted in this issue share a passion for integrating STAR concepts in personal and work settings, broader contexts of their practice, and in some of the institutions and structures they are connected to. They imagine a future where understanding the effects of trauma increases empathy, reduces cycles of violence, brings healing and increases individual and community resilience. Here’s how their passion developed, what they envision, and a peek at the path they are taking to get there.
Angela Dickey came to STAR after 25 years of working domestically and abroad for the U.S. State Department as an American Foreign Service Officer. She spent seven years in Vietnam and Laos, developing a “specialization in working in countries that had been at war with the US.” Angela saw firsthand how “war is the gift that keeps giving.” She talked to many people who are still traumatized by the war or are experiencing secondary trauma from learning about the war through stories of their parents. “Those kinds of traumas … really impact people for generations.” Angela saw how war affected governmental decision making and cultural norms decades after the war was officially declared over.
That experience, says Angela, “affected me personally very deeply. I’ve always been opposed to war in general. This made me really opposed to war at a visceral level. It made me want to figure out what that means for American Foreign policy and how it can inform our current experiences. I think about Iraq and Afghanistan. In 50 years we don’t know what we will see in those two countries.”
During the past year, Angela transitioned from her foreign service career into one focusing on peacebuilding. During a one-year fellowship at the U.S. Institute of Peace she took an initial course in trauma. Since then she’s completed STAR I and II as well as the Journey Home from War.
These trainings have influenced Angela’s current work training African soldiers who are going on peacekeeping missions for the UN and the African Union in various African conflicts. She became aware that many trainees had themselves just experienced war. She has trained in Burundi, for example, which had its own civil war in the 1990s and 2000s. All ethnic groups in Burundi are represented in a unified army now, so the army made up of people from the two sides that fought each other in the civil war. Angela is working to incorporate some of the training techniques that she’s observed at STAR and is using storytelling and circles to help training participants talk about their traumas. She is especially trying to listen better and be more empathic.
“STAR is one big lesson in empathy. It helps you be more empathetic. We need a lot more of that if we’re to be working as peacebuilders. As you get older you get a little wiser. Each STAR training is like having a light click on—waking you up to things you hadn’t realized before. That everybody is like everybody else. And they tell a story and it triggers some empathy.”
Envisioning the future
Angela is intentional about her current and future work: “After retiring, I’m trying to do only things that I’m passionate about. I intend to be more involved with STAR and want to be qualified to teach STAR. In the meantime I’m trying to incorporate some techniques into life and professional growth.”
Angela believes that everyone should have to take STAR: “You go into the class thinking you’re going to learn how to deal with people who are hurt, but then you realize you are hurt and therefore we are all the same.” That’s why she laughingly calls the program “Stealth STAR.”
Angela’s hope is that she can help bring trauma awareness and other peacebuilding concepts to her former Foreign Service colleagues. In particular, she would like to train interagency teams deploying together to serve in U.S. embassies. Though she already holds two master’s degrees, she is preparing herself to help provide this education by pursuing further education in peacebuilding and trauma.
“I’m at that time in life that I feel that I have a bit of experience to share with people. Since I’ve lived abroad a lot, I can help communicate between Americans and foreigners and can interpret them to each other and vice versa. I’ve always enjoyed mentoring younger people and helping them learn. Being a trainer is a natural fit for me. I have been inspired and gotten so excited because this is what I think I can do.”
Daria Nashat grew up in West Berlin and notes that being confronted by the Cold War on a daily basis had a great impact on her. “I was there,” she says, “when the Berlin Wall came down on November 9, 1989. It was almost overwhelming to see the emotions of all these people: they were crying and laughing; dancing and singing; and strangers were embracing each other in the streets. It was a truly amazing experience and it strongly influenced my interest in world affairs and politics.” She adds that being German and living with the legacy of WWII and the Holocaust also had an effect: “In the end, it’s all personal. It’s part of my heritage.”
Daria wrote her master’s thesis on civil-military relations in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. During that time she had opportunity to travel in the Balkans and interview people. She then started working for the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe dealing with regional refugee return in the former Yugoslavia and spent much of her time in the region.
Daria explains that these experiences in combination with her youth in Berlin led her to be very interested in understanding conflict and violence and its impact at all level—national, community, and individual. STAR has helped provide a new perspective on understanding conflict, post-conflict recovery and the risks of reoccurrence of violence if previous harms are not addressed.
“I wish I’d had STAR when I was working on regional refugee return in the former Yugoslavia. Looking back, I feel that trauma awareness was a missing link to better understand the complexities of post-conflict environments.” She observes that post-conflict reconstruction often focuses on repairing physical destruction but pays less attention to the emotional and social costs that violent conflict causes. As a peacebuilder, Daria believes that trauma-sensitive approaches need to be integrated into development and peacebuilding work: “How can we build peace if we don’t understand the role unhealed trauma plays in the continuation of violence?”
Daria notes that STAR has given her a unique lens through which to see things. “In addition to the great analytical insights and tools, I love STAR because of its practical approach. It’s applicable in everyone’s daily life. It’s about integrating who I am with what I do.”
Envisioning the Future
“Discovering STAR has been a fantastic journey and it has inspired me to start educating about and training for trauma-informed peacebuilding.”
Daria has worked with NGOs, governments, and international organizations in Europe and the United States. After learning about STAR during an event at the U.S. Institute of Peace, she took STAR I and II and the Journey Home from War. Using her professional networks in Europe, she introduced STAR to the German Institute for International Peace Missions: “I’m thrilled that the first STAR I training for German civilians working in international missions took place in Berlin in December and I hope that many more will follow.”
She now works as an independent trainer and consultant on resilience; stress management and self-care for peacebuilding professionals. She notes, “Self-care is really important. We’re working in environments that can be very tough and we’re hearing all these painful stories. It is normal to be affected – and it’s important to realize that we will be. Unless we take good care of ourselves, we won’t be able to serve others in a professional, respectful manner. I love the saying: ‘Compassion that does not include yourself is incomplete’.”
She appreciates that STAR raises awareness about the “cost of caring,” such as compassion fatigue and secondary trauma, but also provides practical self-help tools for building resilience.
Daria’s hope for the future is that more people will understand cycles of violence in order to deal with the chronic violence that impacts many of us on a daily basis. She believes STAR offers a great framework and practical tool to breaking these cycles. “Whether it’s in our families, local communities or international war zones, STAR is much needed for more peace and healing.”
Elizabeth writes that her involvement in the STAR program is the continuation of a 25-year journey, beginning with her Ph.D work in the early 1990s. “My professional research, teaching and fieldwork is rooted in diverse experiences of trauma—from war, to natural disasters, to forced migration, to racism and gender-based violence. Level I convinced me that STAR offers a field-tested, practitioner-driven program that produces real results—for individuals and communities. I want to be a STAR practitioner because, of all the trainings I’ve experienced, STAR resonates most strongly with my pedagogical practices in experiential learning, my passionate commitment to diverse training audiences, and my conviction that we can only assist others when we work to better understand ourselves.”
Elizabeth’s Ph.D is in German cultural studies with a concentration on war and post-war trauma. Her dissertation and subsequent research/teaching focused on the impact of WWII and the Holocaust on soldiers, families and communities over successive generations. She also holds an M.A. in applied anthropology with two major focal areas: peace and conflict studies, and gender and development. Her academic career also included teaching, research and fieldwork in peacebuilding, forced migration, social justice, and human rights.
Elizabeth’s academic preparation and professional experience provide a rich background for her interest in integrating STAR concepts of trauma, cycles of violence, and resilience into her daily work with army personnel. Elizabeth has worked closely with local military veterans experiencing combat-related trauma. She currently works with U.S. Special Operations as a pre-deployment trainer. Her job is to help soldiers better understand their operational environments, reduce the negative impact of culture shock, create healthier interactions with local populations, and develop self-care strategies to mitigate combat stress and reintegration roadblocks upon their return. She recently partnered with army personnel to develop new training curriculum in critical thinking, adaptability and leadership. She also works closely with soldier outreach organizations to improve access for returning service members, specifically in the areas of behavioral health, education, and reintegration.
“I never saw myself as someone who would work with the military. I did not grow up in a military family and have always questioned the use of violence as a response to injustice.” The day after 9/11, Elizabeth was teaching a humanities course that started with the Enlightenment and ended with the Holocaust, a sobering message that she calls “from rationality and hope to hatred and genocide.” She remembers that on September 12, 2001 she lead a discussion about the U.S. response as a nation. Elizabeth asked, would we take time to mourn this enormous tragedy, or would we immediately seek revenge? She says, “Little did I know that, eight years later, I would embark on a path of my own personal soul-searching. As I worked more and more closely with soldiers and veterans, I felt God calling me to make a commitment that I had never imagined—to work fulltime, everyday alongside military personnel and their families. I often tell people that, for me, going to work is a rite of passage. Each day I pass through a checkpoint. And each day I feel two things: enormously honored to be among our warfighters; and enormously sad they are preparing for war.”
Envisioning the future….
“I am incredibly excited and inspired by bringing STAR to the military. I read an article several months ago by a Special Forces medical officer. He describes his confusion and incredulity as a U.S. Army doctor in Iraq on a mission to provide free medical care to Iraqi civilians. Much to his surprise and frustration, many local citizens were wary and seemingly unappreciative. He soon realized that their fear and suspicion were rooted in trauma. Not only from the current war, but from decades of dictatorship and deprivation. For me, Dr. Anderson’s story powerfully encapsulates the need for STAR in military communities. It is not enough to build resilience against trauma within our own soldiers. That is important work, essential work. We must also educate soldiers—indeed all those who work in conflict zones—to recognize trauma in the populations they serve, and seek to protect. This simple, yet foundational, insight is why STAR should be brought to our military.”
Elizabeth is working to increase her awareness of compassion fatigue and also the unique needs of military spouses and children. She is intentional about including personal self-care strategies (yoga, meditation, spiritual readings) into her routine. Elizabeth continues her outreach to family members, friends, and colleagues affected by trauma. She is exploring new ways to serve the Fort Bragg area through “whole of community” projects, including the creative arts. Elizabeth is also investigating the possibility of STAR training for local first responders, as well as along the U.S.-Mexico border. “It’s funny how STAR just blossoms like a flower once you nurture it and provide plenty of sunshine. Elaine and others are right: everyone, everywhere needs it!”
Gloria Rhodes is associate professor and department chair of the Applied Social Sciences Department and coordinator for the Peacebuilding and Development undergraduate major at Eastern Mennonite University. She teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses as well as STAR workshops.