Using SEL to Help the Healing Process

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Mar 13, 2019
by Lucy Browett
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Using SEL to Help the Healing Process

Reginald Braggs of the American University of Nigeria describes how SEL is helping the Chibok girls Reginald Braggs at Salzburg Global Seminar

The world was watching in April 2014 when over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria, were snatched from their school by Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

While some have still not returned (an estimated 112 girls are still missing) others were set free or escaped. “They’ve been severely traumatized after not only escaping from a terrorist organization but being held captive for over three years,” said Reginald Braggs, assistant vice president at the American University of Nigeria (AUN), speaking at the Salzburg Global Seminar program, Social and Emotional Learning: Time for Action.

Braggs is responsible for leading the New Foundation School (NFS) at AUN, an initiative designed to be a pre-college preparatory program for “Chibok girls,” with full scholarships on offer. Currently, 122 of these young women are enrolled in the school.

The program assists the girls in moving forward with their lives following their kidnapping, teaching them a variety of skills.

Braggs said, “Their goal is this academic success, which was taken from them when the terrorist organization kidnapped them. And so now they’re striving toward that. We want to place them in a safe environment where they can feel they can achieve that goal but also put them on a pathway to actually achieving that goal.”

He recognizes the uniqueness of this sort of program, adding, “Taking into account so many other things that come to bear with this particular group of students, that is not really something that’s a normal type of academic environment.”

Of the nature of the program itself, Braggs said, “The program entails taking these girls who’ve been held captive or escaped from a terrorist organization and help them to develop their academic skills as well as their social emotional skills.

“Even more importantly with that, is helping them to deal with the spirituality to help them to cope with some of the things that they’re dealing with, with the trauma.”

These traumas are common to all the women studying at NFS which, as Braggs describes, can lead to “hyper-emotional” behavior.

He said, “They’ve been in captivity together so they’re dealing with a lot of things that could happen to them… being in captivity. So when those bad things happen to them, they really rallied around each other. They supported each other.”

Braggs described an anecdote in which, following the death of one of the student’s father, it triggered an outpouring of grief from all students, in a way that, “everybody in the room, it’s as if their father had died.”

He said, “They’re upset because of this type of hyper-emotional connection that they all have because they’ve been together.”

The focus on social and emotional learning in the program is “helping them to manage their emotions.”

Braggs said, “If they can manage their emotions better they can help the situation. And it’s also a matter of trying to help them to understand how to have empathy. Amongst themselves, they do. But what about people that are outside this circle? How can they help those people that have not been kidnapped?”

How can SEL help oppressed societies in general? Braggs thinks it is about “helping [oppressed societies] to have better behaviors to try to get them to the next level which they need to go to.”

He said, “When you’re oppressed, you really are trying just to satisfy some of your basic needs. Whether it’s shelter, whether it’s just food, it’s survival, you know? But if you’re able to manage those things, get those needs met, now you’re looking at another level.”


The program Social and Emotional Learning: Time for Action is part of Salzburg Global’s long-running multi-year series Education for Tomorrow’s World. The program is held in partnership with ETS, Microsoft, Porticus, Qatar Foundation International and USAID’s Education in Crisis and Conflict Network.