‘Consequences of worry’: Former Ukrainian student praises trauma lessons from Newmarket teacher

Brenton Diaz is a co-ordinator of the Newcomers’ Health and Well-being Program at Cedar Centre. He has traveled to Ukraine to teach professionals about trauma and trauma recovery. His work at Cedar Center is with individuals who identify as newcomers and re

  • Brenton Diaz is a co-ordinator of the Newcomers' Health and Well-being Program at Cedar Centre.  March 2, 2022

A former Ukrainian student, now sheltering from air raids in the Russia-invaded war-torn country, reached out to Brenton Diaz to express gratitude for his lessons.

“Your lectures are very helpful. What goes on deep inside of us. How to deal with stressful situations. Understand the consequences of worry,” the student said.

Diaz, an East Gwillimbury resident, is a co-ordinator of the Newcomers’ Health and Well-being Program at the Newmarket-based Cedar Centre, serving clients who have experienced trauma.

He traveled to central Ukraine in 2018, 2019 and last November, to teach traumatic counseling and counseling skills at a small college to community leaders, addictions counsellors, people working with war-affected children, religious leaders and youth workers.

“Many of the students I worked with remember the Soviet times, when their entire society was repressed, leading to deep and often unspoken trauma. Such discrimination led many to use alcohol as a way to cope, which is why there are many addictions workers and rehabilitations centers in the country,” Diaz said.

“The region where I taught was also impacted by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, with many people in the region becoming exposed to radiation and developing sicknesses. The more recent situation in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as Crimea, also impacted the country greatly, and several students of mine came from these regions and reported their own experiences of trauma. Of course, today we have the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Diaz was invited to teach trauma counseling to military chaplains this spring but suspects the trip will be cancelled, although chaplains are now faced with supporting traumatized soldiers.

As friends and former students in Ukraine stay in touch through the internet, even sharing videos of air raid threats, Diaz worries for their safety while also being inspired by their strength and compassion and his hope he has given them comfort.

“But I can’t sugar coat it, there have also been some dark, scary times when my friends across Ukraine have faced intense and very real threats, and some acquaintances have had to take up arms to defend their country,” he said.

“My friends have also shared with me the inhumanity in this invasion, especially as civilians are being harmed in increasing ways. They long for peace and are shocked to be in such cruel circumstances to begin with.”

At the Cedar Centre, Diaz focuses on providing culturally sensitive services through the health and well-being program to local newcomers and refugees who experience “deep distress” in their home countries.

“Some of my clients have experienced war, not unlike what the Ukrainians are experiencing right now. Some have been targeted for violence in their home countries due to their political stances, or due to being a member of the LGBT community,” he said.

Clients are survivors of genocide, childhood or adult sexual assault and other traumas.

The program promotes well-being and honors the strength of people, while still listening to their intense stories of pain and loss, Diaz said.

Funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the program is led by the Canadian Mental Health Association York and South Simcoe.

It delivers mental health and physical health care to newcomers 12 and older, the association’s director of services, Jun Maranan, said.

“The program addresses newcomers’ health concerns in a holistic manner that considers their culture, language, and the community to which they belong. It is a unique program in our region that really caters to newcomers, a group often underserved,” he said.

“Many of the clients we serve come from war-torn countries and have experienced trauma. Using a trauma-informed lens to deliver services where newcomers need them the most, our program works directly with referrals from health-care providers, settlement agencies and faith organizations, in partnership with community partners including Cedar Centre, Welcome Centers and York Region District School Board. I could not be more proud of the services we developed for newcomers and the positive outcomes we have seen in our clients.”


STORY BEHIND THE STORY: When contacted by the Cedar Center about its Newcomers Health and Well-being Program and co-ordinator Brenton Diaz’s trauma teaching experience in Ukraine, reporter Lisa Queen wanted to share the information with the community.

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