Scarred for life is an ongoing project aimed at documenting the effect that long term, on-going conflicts have on civilians on a physical but more specifically, psychological level. The focus is on low income countries where lack of infrastructure and authority leave people who have endured severe traumas totally helpless.
So far, I have been to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan, three countries ravaged by war and instability for several decades and where psychological treatments are almost non-existent (CAR only has one psychiatrist brought in by an international NGO). While the war in South Sudan is relatively new (2013), the area has a long history of conflict and violence with its northern neighbor Sudan, which has been fueled by religion and wealth.
These countries are experiencing unconventional conflicts, with armed rebels and militias fighting the government but at times, each other as well. Defenseless civilians are caught in the crossfire and targeted for reasons ranging from ethnicity, politics, religion or location. These armed groups use different methods like rape, mutilation, torture and all sorts of atrocities, which survivors witness and endure. Lack of proper health structures, due to decades of mismanagement and corruption from different governments, leave survivors without the necessary tools such as counseling and medication to overcome these traumatic experiences, making them vulnerable to all sorts of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, psychosis or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among many others. Drug and alcohol abuse become too often a coping mechanism often leading to other mental disorders. This gap in mental health services often turns traditional healers and praying houses into the first option for treatment where all sort of methods are used, like chaining people up for several months while making them fast. Widespread misunderstanding of mental illness and its symptoms are often mistaken for demonic possession and witchcraft.
These three countries rank among the lowest in the Human Development Index, with a combined population of 95 million and a life expectancy that averages 55 years. Billions of dollars have been poured in the hope that it would result in continuous development and the establishment of competent governments, however in some cases the opposite has been achieved. Wealth, religion or ethnicity among other reasons keep fueling these conflicts where no end is in sight. Civilians are exposed to extreme levels of violence in weak States that are unable or unwilling to help, leaving them scarred for life.