A Hundred Thousand Orphans: My Experience with the Children of the Eritrean War
Published by: Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers
Imprint: Peter Lang, International Academic Publishers
Sales Date: 2023-04-28
Published: April 2023
Dimensions: 150.00 x 225.00
150.00 x 225.00 x 0.50 in
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A Hundred Thousand Orphans vividly documents the war and orphanage environments experienced by thousands of traumatized Eritrean children and the long-term consequences their unique education—largely the egalitarian values inherent to the Eritrean culture—has on their ability to socially integrate into society as adults. Dr. Wolff applies his expertise as a psychiatrist and authority on child development to evaluate the effects of war and orphanage conditions on the development of Eritrea’s war orphans. In this insightful account, he documents the growth of these orphans over a thirty-year period, providing one of the most in-depth accounts of the effect war and conflict have on children. Dr. Wolff presents a strategy that successfully integrated hundreds of orphans into post-war society and provides it as a model for giving traumatized children hope for recovery and an opportunity to overcome destructive circumstances to heal. This is a framework that will have applications around the world in diverse situations concerning childhood development and trauma.
List of Figures – Preface – Acknowledgments – Introduction – Part I Eritrea at War – The Road to the Base Camps – A Brief Overview of Modern Eritrea – The Base Camps – The Human Factor – Departures – Solomuna – Solomuna Revisited – Centers for Mothers and Infants – The Zero School – Cassandra’s List – Peace at Last – Part II One Hundred Thousand Orphans – Meeting the Challenge – Orphanages – Reunification – Group Homes – Education after Liberation – Community Child- Care Centers – Part III A Dubious Liberation – A New Government – Another War – The Peacetime Economy and Its Ramifications – Part IV The Legacy of the Zero School – The Orphans Revisited – Looking Forward – Bibliography – Additional Resources – Biographical Data
“This vivid and absorbing book is a work of ethical depth – a triumph of scholarship, thought and empathy. Peter H. Wolff, who has dedicated his illustrious professional life to the study of how children grow and develop, has now written a spellbinding account of his work with the abandoned victims of the Eritrean-Ethiopian war, the Eritrean orphans. While this is a provocative and fascinating book on the forces of idealism and rebellion that shaped the war, his first-hand account does nothing less than revolutionize our notions about how children can recover from trauma and grow up to become self-reliant, productive adults. Moreover, he brings the art of the storyteller through this narrative - big themes mingle with personal tragedy, which makes it not only intellectually challenging and emotionally exhilarating but compulsively readable. His ability to draw out arresting examples and comparisons and to combine psychological, political, demographic, environmental and cultural analysis is impressive, so that no one reading this volume can fail to learn a great deal. This vivid and riveting book is a celebration of the human imagination and the human heart.”
—Kevin Nugent, Founder and Director of the Brazelton Institute, Division of Developmental Medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital
Professor Emeritus, the University of Massachusetts Lecturer, Harvard Medical School
“This is a thoroughly absorbing personal memoir by a wise and thoughtful psychiatrist who had the unique experience of observing the effects of war on a nation’s children. Peter Wolff rovides an insightful and vivid account of the effect of early traumatic experience on childhood development and the strength of the Eritrean people. This description of the events in Eritrea from 1985 to 2015 is full of wisdom, insight, compassion, and humility by a truly outstanding observer.”
— George F. Michel, Ph.D, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina Greensboro
“A Hundred Thousand Orphans provides a fascinating inside look at the impact a creative, empowering approach to education can have on severely traumatized children, most of whom were orphaned or abandoned during Eritrea’s long war for independence from Ethiopia. This makes the speed with which the postwar regime squandered these breakthroughs in favor of tight social controls and traditional rote learning and memorization all the more disheartening. Nevertheless, Wolff’s rigorous documentation of the successful initial experiment offers valuable lessons for anyone dealing with the effects of trauma on children and the healing power of affection and mutual respect, together with a stark warning against taking such achievements for granted. Wolff also argues that the vision behind this pioneering experiment will live on through the survivors to see another day in the sun. I, for one, was convinced.”
— Dan Connell, Author of Against All Odds (1997), Conversations with Eritrean Political Prisoners (2005), and the Historical Dictionary of Eritrea (2019).
I am writing this letter to endorse the works of Peter Wolff. To write a letter of recommendation of an accomplished author, scientist and educator like Peter Wolff is not an easy task. If, nevertheless, he has honored me by the invitation to write this letter, and if I gladly accepted, it is because this letter of support offers an occasion that permits clarifying the nature of a common experience we shared during the darkest moment of Eritrean history. I met the author decades ago in the Sahel, the most inaccessible northern region of Eritrea, where the devastation of the liberation war of attrition that lingered for a quarter of a century combined with biblical drought devastated the population. The Eritrean liberation fighters built underground hospitals and clinics and provided basic health services to the nomadic pastoralists, displaced populations and orphanages.
In these testing hours a professor from Boston (Harvard) unexpectedly appeared in the night at Orotta, the central hospital of the liberation front, after crisscrossing the eastern desert of Sudan and climbing the hills of Sahel, riding on the cargo trucks by night. Although I was intrigued, his mere appearance was a source of hope to all of us, especially at that particular time of loneliness and isolation when solidarity is more valued than any material help. I asked him, “You came all the way from Harvard to this wretched part of the planet. Why?” He simply said, “To help” and “help” he did.
In his humble but ambitious book, Peter Wolff endeavors to reflect on and ascertain his unique study among the displaced Eritrean orphans living in the rugged mountains in underground bunkers, makeshift tents and caves, distant from civilization but safe from military incursion, deep in the hills of Sahel, a province that was under the control of the Eritreans. The orphans lived communally until adulthood. Food was scarce, but under an acacia tree they gathered in groups of ten around a plate – a flat slab of stone -- where sorghum bread with sparse lentils was served. No meat, vegetables, or fruits. It was a miserable life, to say the least. Those who took care of the orphans were young men and women liberation fighters who had neither the knowledge nor the desire to work with children because they joined the front to fight, not to nurture orphans. The arrival of a foreign expert from afar transformed the mood of the workers and in good spirit they listened and absorbed all the advice and instruction given by Dr. Wolff and applied it religiously. His advice drastically transformed the facilities’ structure, staffing pattern, and outcome of the orphanages.
The reader is taken on a journey through hardships and challenges, elaborating first-hand the saga of a study that spans two decades. This journey involves liberation fighters, officials of the state of Eritrea, and orphans at various stages of their lives. The tone of the book reflects a learned appreciation of the dedicated people and committed leaders, with a humble academic base but unbeatable will combined with scientific input from one of the best minds, a product of the most prestigious institution, who lived, experienced first-hand, and saw it all.
Peter Wolff’s investigation and conclusions are based on detailed examination of the records of the orphans, systematic surveys and in-depth analyses of his meticulous recording, including personal interviews of orphans, whom he followed from childhood to adulthood. In his study he finds compelling evidence that is contrary to the accepted school of thought and proposes recommendations that are not conventional. He negates the rigidly assured adverse impact on children institutionalized in orphanages for a long time -- especially those who are victims of conflict in poor and underdeveloped societies -- and concludes that under a stimulating environment and appropriate care they are equal if not better in terms of social, cognitive and physical development when compared to parented children.
This book is an excellent resource for students and educators, and above all it is a tribute to those who made it possible under circumstances meshed with war, hunger, displacement and desperation. It is also a testimony to the populations in poor countries that orphans are not doomed, unfortunate victims but instead, with minimal material comforts and abundant love and support, they can turn into citizens equal if not better than those who grow up with their families. The author demonstrates the detailed progression of a long-term follow-up that spans over a generation, shedding light on the good will and compassion of workers who created unexpected outcomes in a place far in Africa, ridden with impossibilities.
The author’s writing is eloquent and understandable at all levels. It is a well-documented book with conclusions that could be arrived at by others, but above all, it is a treasure trove of science and humanity with relevance to society at large today and a long time into the future.
— Assefaw Tekeste Ghebrekidan MD, Dr PH, Public Health Program, Professor
College of Education and Health Sciences, Touro University California