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Kenyans Becoming Crisis Counselors

August 14, 1998 GMT

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Television viewers who saw the raw footage of burned, mangled bodies at the scene of the U.S. Embassy bombing might have an inkling of the horrors people here are carrying in their heads.

But then add the rest: The screams, the sirens, the agonized whimpers, the stench of singed flesh. The panic, pain and confusion.

How do you cope with that memory?

For the first time, Kenyans are being trained as crisis counselors, learning how to help people deal with the emotional aftermath of such a devastating trauma.

The Aug. 7 Nairobi bombing killed 247 people and injured more than 5,500. Another 10 people died and more than 70 were wounded in a nearly simultaneous blast at the embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

``You can stitch up the wounds. You can put a cast around a broken limb. But the emotional wounds are going to take a long time to heal,″ said Cpl. Walter K. Crews, of Macclenny, Fla., He is part of a seven-person U.S. Army team sent in to train the crisis counselors.

The team from the 254th Combat Stress Control Detachment based in Wiesbaden, Germany, arrived in Nairobi on Monday.

By Thursday, they’d trained 125 doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, rescue workers, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and volunteers.

Meanwhile, Kenyatta National Hospital got a crisis hotline up and running and seven centers were offering free crisis counseling, said Rosemary Mbugwa, the program coordinator.

The Army team found that training crisis counselors can turn into counseling itself.

The trainees, like the people they’ll be helping, have been through a shattering experience. Many have broken down in the training sessions.

``Some weren’t able to help as fast or as much as they wanted to and they feel guilty,″ said another member of the team, Spc. Travis Allen of Fort Scott, Kan.

Others were angry, numb, depressed, fearful _ all normal reactions, the experts say, to an abnormal situation.

Ben Nyakuni, a social worker at Kenyatta National Hospital, works with the dying every day, mostly AIDS sufferers in the maternity ward.

The mothers and babies are doomed to die; it’s a heartbreaking place. But he manages to keep his professional detachment.

This time around, it’s hard. The tragedy is his, too.

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Three of Nyakuni’s neighbors died in the horrifying collapse of the building next door to the embassy, and his aunt and another neighbor were badly wounded.

``At the beginning, I did not believe,″ Nyakuni said. ``This sort of thing happens to other people. Not to me!″

On the day of the bombing, he was drafted to help out in the emergency room, a ``mad scene,″ he said, with horribly mangled victims, people with dreadful burns, frantic relatives milling around.

Like many people involved in the rescue effort, Nyakuni hadn’t had the time to think about his own feelings or confront the horrors he’d seen until he walked into the one-day training course.

``Who helps the helpers?″ Crews asked. ``That’s what we’re trying to do.″