9 May 2019

Unlocking your Emotions to Achieve the SDGs: Healing Trauma

What if there was a tool that could help countries avoid war and heal post-conflict, help communities work more closely together and help people have better interpersonal relationships, care more about their environment and be better global citizens?  This tool already exists – it’s called Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ). There are many definitions of Emotional Intelligence, but broadly EI is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in an effective and positive way. In this week-long series, UNAI will explore the many aspects of Emotional Intelligence and how it can be applied in diverse settings and taught to anyone to help build empathy and achieve a better world. 

According to UNCHR “an unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from their homes, among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.” This displacement, caused by conflict, political unrest, climate change and food insecurity, has a disproportionate impact on women and children.  Displacement also makes children vulnerable to trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse as well as being forced into combat as child soldiers. The physical, psychological and emotional trauma of these events often lasts for years and can have an indelible impact on the development on their mental and physical development. The areas of the brain affected are usually those associated with the regulation of emotion, as well as those affecting learning and memory. Other brain regions related to the control of impulses and reasoning, problem solving, and judgment can also be impaired.

These behavioral and emotional deficits predispose children to negative adolescent trajectories that include early drop-out from school, tend to consume drugs and alcohol, gamble, have suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and extreme violence behaviors, experience emotional roller coasters and develop certain trends towards conforming with their lives and surrender to adversities. These people often find it difficult to receive emotional healing.

The last interview in our series on Emotional Intelligence is with Motaz Malla. Motaz is a 25-year-old Syrian refugee who left his country seven years ago alone and without his family due to the war.  He now studies Sports Science and Physiotherapy at Camilo Jose Cela University in Spain and hopes to become a football coach one day.

Motaz is able to study in Spain thanks to a scholarship from the university and an innovative program the school offers called INTEGRA. The program, founded in 2016, teaches refugee students the skills they need to cope with stress, depression and the trauma they have experienced using Emotional Intelligence skills and mindfulness techniques.  Over the last three years, the program has worked with 15 refugee students.

Motaz says the program has been a lifeline for him after years of war, displacement and uncertainty. In his interview he talks about his experience as a Syrian refugee, his path to get where he is now, and how emotional intelligence and mindfulness are helping him rebuild his life. 

On Friday, 17 May United Nations Academic Impact will hold a half-day conference on using Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness to achieve the SDGs from 10am-2pm at UNHQ in New York. You can watch the conference live or on-demand at webcast.untv.org.

The following resources provide more information on Emotional Intelligence and mindfulness used in post-conflict situations, and more information on the Integra program at Camilo Jose Cela University:


Unlocking your Emotions to Achieve the SDGs: Healing Trauma

Unlocking your Emotions to Achieve the SDGs: Healing Trauma with Motaz Malla