During my visits to Cambodia and in my reading and conversations, fear – usually due to a lack of information, knowledge and understanding – is one of the most evident symptoms I see as the result of a generation of war.

The Cambodian people are desperately struggling to get back ownership and control of their lives in the midst of the poverty and destruction created by years of foreign and civil wars, find new skills to cope with the trauma, and reorganize their lives in a healthier ways. The sheer magnitude of the task of physical survival has prevented the development of the skills needed to deal with damaged self esteem, destructive behaviour, hopelessness and a lack of trust.

Individuals and families often do not understand that trauma can lead to outbursts of anger, depression, and panic or sudden grief, or that traumatized people may be more suspicious and afraid and have a tendency to withdraw from society. Often those who suffer from these symptoms are viewed as abnormal or even mentally ill and there is little sympathy or compassion for their plight.

Without counsel or insight into their grief, anger and depression, and with nowhere to turn for help, many seek relief in the abuse of alcohol, drugs, sex and violence. Many young Cambodian women were raised in child labour or refugee camps with little healthy parental influence and are ill-prepared to face the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood.

What is needed is some basic knowledge about these pressing issues. If help were available, many Cambodians would seek the help they desperately need. Armed with support and insight into the trauma they have been through, they will come to realize that their feelings are normal and justified and begin the road to recovery for themselves and their family.