James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

READ MORE »

Graduate Psychology Professor Assists in Demining Effort

By: Beth Principi
Posted: May 5, 2009

PHOTO: Jordanian students“In today’s world, especially right now, it is important that Americans have a chance to be seen as helpers and compassionate people,” reminded graduate psychology professor Dr. Anne Stewart.

Stewart was part of a team of JMU professors who went on a trip to Amman, Jordan in March to work with the non-governmental organization, Life Line Consultancy and Rehabilitation, to develop a psychoeducational play that delivers mine risk education messages to children.

The country of Jordan has taken on a major mine clearance effort in recent years along the Jordan-Syrian border.  The mines, which were placed by the Jordanian government in the late 1970s to protect citizens against invasion, are still present today and continue to injure and kill innocent people.  The problem with these minefields is that most are unmarked, near communities (schools and neighborhoods) and because of rain and wind, have drifted throughout the years.

“One of the most horrific things about mines is how indiscriminate and long lasting they are,” recalled Stewart.  In past years Stewart has worked on demining projects in Vietnam, Cambodia, Bosnia and Mozambique.

PHOTO: Jordanian studentsDue to prior research, Stewart and her team knew that the age group most likely to partake in risky activities was between the ages of eleven and fifteen.  Together they organized a three-prong approach to teach this age group about mine dangers.   The first tactic, a knowledge-based component, required a pre and post test, which asked the children what they would do in a certain situation.  The next component was on attitude and consisted of questions asking if they agreed or disagreed with certain aspects of mine risks.  The last part of the approach was behavior based; the children were given a scenario and asked what they would do in that particular situation.  This three-prong approach was complemented by a play, which was written in Jordan and sent to Stewart and her group for suggestions prior to being seen by children. 

Measuring the behavior of the children was difficult since it was almost impossible to get real-life data. Fortunately Stewart received some anecdotal information on her first trip to Jordan in July that was very encouraging.  She went to a school in a northern province of Jordan that was only a few hundred yards from the Syrian border.  As the guide was explaining that there were mine fields just beyond the school parking lot, five boys appeared.  One of the boys began gesturing to Stewart and her group.  The guide told Stewart that the boy was telling them to be careful, that there was danger over there and proceeded to give them an emergency number to call if they saw anything suspicious.

“It was wonderful, just what you want to have happen.  To have him stay safe with his buddies and to come warn us,” said Stewart.  “Obviously we were not from the area and he recognized that and took it upon himself to come over and warn us.”

PHOTO: Jordanian StudentThe data from the project are still being analyzed, but the exchange between the team and the children is a good predictor of the projects success.  It was important to Stewart and her team for the children to create something that was “long lasting and positive” as opposed to the long lasting destructiveness of mines.  To do this, children participated in community art projects, which included painting morals on retaining walls and building sculptures in the middle of rotaries.  “It’s a legacy,” explained Stewart.  “A creative force instead of a destructive force in the community.”

Stewart’s research interest in humanitarian demining was what brought her to Jordan, but being there presented multiple opportunities for her to participate in other areas of research interest.

“I am always on the lookout for opportunities,” said Stewart.  “This one fortunately came my way, and I am happy that it did.”

Mathematics and statistics professor Hasan Hamdan was one of Stewart’s colleagues involved in the research project in Jordan.  Hamdan’s uncle is a teacher at a night school for street children in Jordan, and he invited Stewart and Hamdan to join him.  “Everyone I meet is a gift,” said Stewart.  “I am always enriched [when I meet someone] so I thought to myself ‘just go’.”

As a licensed clinical therapist and play therapist, Stewart has traveled near and far to deliver and teach play therapy.  She has been to Sri Lanka after the devastation of the Tsunami as well as Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina tore through the gulf.  

At the night school in Jordan she was introduced as a play therapist.  The students, ranging in age from ten to twenty, had questions about play therapy.  “I answered a little bit about [play therapy], and explained when you play you can feel better and when you’re angry it can come out in how you play,” said Stewart.  One of the leaders in the group of students raised his hand and told Stewart that he couldn’t remember ever playing, he has been working his entire life and now it was too late.   “I said to him it was clear to me that he was a survivor, that it sounded like he had some pretty tough times, and I said I was sorry about that,” recalled Stewart.  “And I said I have some good news.  The good news is you can start to play anytime, like now!”

With that Stewart jumped up, told all the students to push back the chairs and tables and form a circle in the middle of the room.  She explained that when she said something, if it applied to them, they had to run in the middle of the circle and find a different spot to stand on the outside of the circle.  She shouted out a sweet treat and everyone ran into the circle laughing and smiling.  After a few times she turned it over to the students and they started to yell things out.  “It was heartwarming and they laughed, and they did goofy ones and they did some touching ones,” remember Stewart.  “It doesn’t take much, if you just stop the action for a little bit and reach out to someone.”

After spending time with the students Stewart met with the night school administrators who asked her to write something in their book about her visit.  She told them she wanted to read it to them, to stand up and present it in a ceremony to them. 

“What I told them was that when I walked in I knew I was in a special place.  What I saw were caring teachers, committed administrators, overburdened-students who were still interested in learning.  I saw a community that was vibrant and a community that had suffered too much and disproportionately for the number of years that their students have been on earth.  I saw a great deal of resilience and I saw hope, and I wished them well.”

After visiting with people worldwide and witnessing both the devastation of communities and the hope of a brighter future, Stewart still emphasizes service in local communities.

“To remind people that they do not have to travel afar to make a big impact,” said Stewart.  “You can do it by just looking around your community.”

The mine risk education project in Jordan was conducted with the support of the U.S. Department of State Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. The James Madison University Mine Action Information Center partnered with Jordan-based Lifeline Consultancy for Consultancy and Rehabilitation to develop this innovative program. The Jordan mine-risk education team members are Dennis Barlow, Suzanne Fiederlein, Lennie Echterling, Hasan Hamdan, Anne Stewart, Kamel Saadi, Jomanah  Al-Tambour and Ruba Salkham. The project team coordinated closely with Jordanian government officials in the National Committee for Demining and Rehabilitation.