Yesterday I told you about James (from the National Police), Ty Rose (an anesthesiologist and teacher), and Marilyn (a pediatrician). (Here is the link, if you missed it.) Now, here is Mercedes’ story.
We go around the circle to “check in” about our emotions and what’s happening right now, this moment. It is Mercedes’ time to ‘partager,’ or share. “Most of you,” she begins, “have seen how I was last time,” and I remember – and imagine that all the others remember as well – how at the very first training, in December, she sat erect in clothes that hung like armor, her face as immobile and solemn as the great statues on Easter Island, speaking occasionally and telegraphically about the death of her husband and her daughters, and her own despair.
Mercedes now opens her hands and, amazingly, grins. “I have found calm,” she begins, “doing the deep breathing and the shaking and dancing every day,” (she is emphasizing now). “And I have found much more as well.”
“On the anniversary, January 12th, my daughter and I and our whole community were in Church. And everyone was so sad, but tense also and unable to express the sadness. And I let myself cry. And then my daughter was able to cry too. And in my crying I found strength. And I asked myself ‘what have I learned in the Mind-Body program and how can I use it to help everyone in this Church?’ And I began to sing a song – I have never done this before. And my voice grew stronger, and I asked everyone to lift their arms and glorify God. And they all began to sing and lift their arms, and cry. And I sang three songs and then we opened our eyes and we were all calm.”
She concludes, “you know I work as a teacher. But my students no longer call me teacher,” she says, wagging her finger and pausing with what I cannot help but think is a mischievous grin. “now,” she goes on, “they call me ‘mommy’.”
Thank you for reading my accounts of CMBM’s trainings in Haiti, and these stories from our trainees. I hope you are finding the people as amazing and their stories as touching as I do.
Now that the first 120 Haitian professionals have completed our Initial and Advanced Trainings in Mind-Body Medicine, they will begin to offer Mind-Body Skills Groups to their family, friends, community, and at their institutions, and I will be sharing more of their stories here as they teach and share with others, and learn and grow themselves.
I’m delighted–NBC Washington online just posted a wonderful profile of our work in Haiti. Read about our program and the many people it is helping here.
I am honored to be at Linda’s daughter Yehlie’s first communion – surprised at first, quickly engaged, and soon moved.
The church turns out to be a metal shed, spacious, vaulted, open on one side, doing duty on other days as classroom, auditorium and gymnasium. There are permanent concrete bleachers against the long wall, and for today worn wooden pews imported, in stately rows facing the altar and lectern that are even now being carried in. The communicants’ chairs are arranged in several rows of nested crescents. Yellow flowers overflow the basketball hoops at either end of the floor.
Parents, siblings and friends fill the pews and bleachers, smiles breaking out in greetings, cameras at hand. Sweet music pours from surprisingly faithful speakers. Nine and ten year old girls in strawberry jumpers sit opposite me, close to the altar – the choir – looking expectantly toward where the younger children will enter as they take their place in the church and with their God. Such gentle order in the midst of Haiti’s general chaos.
100 or 120 little girls in white dresses with wide fluttering skirts and white crowns of linen flowers enter -walking, skipping a little, so pleased and proud. During the course of the morning’s service I notice that each one has a different hairstyle, curls and braids, straight and natural, falling in cascades or caught up in geysers, billowing toward every point of Nature’s compass, saying, I imagine: “This is how I like it” or “This is how my mom and I like it”. Some are obvious leaders, engaged from moment one, with the girls in the next chairs, or eyes bright with ones across the way. Others are more internal, sitting with some poise or fidgeting for a comfortable place.
I count only a few boys, heads shaved, in white dress shirts and grey pants, bow ties like red blossoms under their chins.
Linda’s family and friends make sure I am comfortable, out of direct sunlight, able to follow the service. I am bathed in their kindness, the little girls’ pleasure and anticipation, the sweet yearning of the choir’s voices and the words of the hymns calling, crooning, praising: “Ton amour nous appelle” (Your love calls us); “Merci mon dieu pour ton amour, pour le don de la vie.” (Thank you god for your love, for the gift of life.”) My heart cracks and I cry with appreciation for these girls and their parents and the priest, and the joy and hope they – and now I – feel.
When it is time for the “kiss of peace” everyone is thrilled to share and receive the love. I am too.
“You have planted a seed,” he tells us, before we all go off to bed. “Other ways, like medication and just talking, weren’t working or were too difficult, or even if good, like prayer, were not enough. But this seed is now becoming a tree and it is bearing fruit.”
We are in Port-au-Prince this week doing an Advanced Training in Mind-Body Medicine with 120 Haitian health, mental health and education professionals and caregivers. Please look for more posts in the days to come. More info on our Global Trauma Relief program in Haiti can be found here.
Exciting news–I’ll be speaking on NPR’s Talk of the Nation today, Thursday Oct. 28, about the best ways to rebuild Haiti, sustainably and permanently, in the wake of the earthquake and continuing hardships the Haitian people face.
I’ll talk about what has worked for CMBM in the past when creating sustainable programs of mental health care in post-war and post-disaster areas like Gaza, Kosovo, and New Orleans, and what we have planned for Haiti. (Our first Professional Training Program in Port-au-Prince is scheduled for early December.)
If you’d like to listen to the show live, check your local NPR listings here (If you’re in the DC area, it’s on WAMU 88.5, 2-4pm EST, and the segment will probably air between 3-3:45pm EST).
If you can’t catch it live, check back at the Talk of the Nation website, and it should be available for listening or download later today. I hope you can tune in.
A big thank you to all the donors who are making this program possible (and there’s still time to donate), and all my best to all of you.
Our last full day in Haiti brought us another unexpected and auspicious meeting. On our first visit to Haiti the month before, Rosemary and I had met with Dr. Claude Surena, an internist who is head of the Haitian Medical Association and principal advisor to the Ministry of Health. Dr. Surena was extremely enthusiastic about working with us. This time Dr. Surena was out of the country, and he suggested we meet with his colleague, Dr Jean Hugues Henrys.
The problem was that we could no more find Dr. Henrys — housed in temporary quarters and mostly out working in the clinics and hospitals — than we could Drs. Guiteau and Amedee-Gedeon. Lee-Ann called and called, and finally—“just one more time.” We reached him, and set an appointment for the last hour of our last day in Port-au-Prince.
It turned out Dr. Henrys, a genial host, was as happy to see us as we him, and was particularly eager for us to work with Ministry of Health employees. Their building had been destroyed, many of their colleagues were dead, and the ones who remained were carrying grief for lost friends as they dealt with the enormous needs of the population.
And then, as the meeting was winding down, another man entered the room. It turned out to be the Minister of Health, Dr. Alex Larsen. Dr. Henrys filled him in on our work and what we had been talking about and went on to make a suggestion. “It says in your proposal,” Dr. Henrys–a quick study– reminded us, “that you want to have a ‘Haitian leadership team.’ It is important that you work with the future leaders too, with medical students, and others concerned with the social sciences.”
“Yes,” I say, “we do that in the US. That would make me very happy.”
“Perhaps he has not told you,” Dr. Larsen interjected, smiling, “but Dr. Henrys is the Dean of our Medical School.”
Next post: the very successful workshop we offered to American Red Cross workers during our visit.
One of the sure but less obvious signs that our work is going well, and that it is meant to go well, is the increased incidence of synchronistic experiences– of happy, unexpected, unpredictable coincidences –that forward what we are doing.
These events don’t arise without effort; in fact, they often come only after we have worked very hard, and when the desired result — in this case, meetings with key figures in Haitian healthcare — seems altogether unattainable. We had two such unexpected happy events – meeting with four more remarkable people on the last two days of our visit.
On our fourth day, April 9th, I led a workshop for American Red Cross staff — it went very well, and I’ll tell you about it later. For some days prior to it, however, we had tried unsuccessfully—by phone and email—to reach the leadership of the Haitian Red Cross, an organization that is central not only to emergency recovery, but to providing long-term services and education to the Haitian population. Everyone wanted to help but nothing seemed to work. We encountered unanswered phones, voicemail messages that languished, outdated e-mail addresses. We did hear that the Red Cross leaders were busy developing and supervising projects all over Port-au-Prince so we thought we might be able to follow leaders and track them down.
As we drove from one destroyed neighborhood to another, I remembered these “personal searches” were what we’d done in Kosovo after the war when the land lines weren’t functioning and cell phones were rare. Finally, hot and seat-sore from riding over Port-au-Prince’s pothole-punctuated, rubble-strewn roads, we accepted what seemed inevitable: we would have to wait till next trip to meet the Haitian Red Cross leadership.
However, since it wasn’t yet dark, I—ever optimistic– thought we might pay a visit to the University of Miami Medishare hospital, where I had spent so much time on my first visit to Haiti. It turned out we couldn’t find that either.
“Maybe,” our driver opined, “someone at the Red Cross installation nearby”—he gestured to one we had not yet visited—“would know where it is.”
“Okay,” I thought as we arrived, “let’s ask about Medishare. But let’s also try just once more to see if anyone knows where we can find the Red Cross president, Dr. Michael Amedee-Gedeon and Dr. Jean-Pierre Guiteau, the Executive Officer.
When I mentioned their names, the guard looked uncomprehending. Still, I handed him my card. Ten minutes later he returned with instructions to bring us ahead. As we walked over the crushed stone toward a newly constructed building, a man as puzzled to see us as we would be surprised and delighted to see him, approached.
He was, it turned out, Dr. Guiteau, a long-time leader in public health with a particular expertise in and concern for Haiti’s children. Still a bit puzzled but exceedingly gracious, he invited us to the conference room and offered us coffee. Soon we were soon joined by Dr. Amedee-Gedeon, who made us feel as if we were not only most welcome but long expected. She said she specialized in nutrition, as well as public health. She had previously been, Dr. Guiteau told us, Haiti’s Health Minister.
I described our work, stumbling a little at first even in English, because I was still amazed that we were actually talking with them. When I finished, they asked a few questions about the length and scope of our training and the research we had done on our work with professionals and with traumatized kids. They told us how concerned they were about the stress their staff and volunteers were experiencing—“So many have lost family and friends themselves.” They appreciated that the skills that we had to teach could be helpful to these burdened men and women as well as to their many thousands of “beneficiaries.” They were particularly interested, given our experiences in Kosovo and Gaza, in how we might help the large number of amputees whom, they feared, “would never live up to their potential.”
Next post: Meet the Minister of Health Dr. Alex Larsen, and Dr. Jean-Hugues Henrys
Shortly after we arrived yesterday afternoon, Star and I crossed the street and walked down the ragged line of incongruously bright new tents that front the road. An open space gives us entry, and we wander through the maze of living and cooking spaces, a large, older white man, a small, younger black woman whose “bonsoirs” are often returned with smiles.
We reach one boundary of the encampment formed by a four-story concrete building which has been crushed like a paper hat. A young woman with an infant greets us. The baby is a little thin, a little dour, a little jumpy. Her name is Miranda, and she is two months old. Miranda’s mother shows me a place on her head where the nearby building had quite literally fallen on her. It hurts still, a month after the earthquake, and so do her neck and back. I go into her tent to take a look. There is great tension and tenderness at the site of her injuries. I do some gentle manipulation, and she smiles with relief. I reassure her that in time the symptoms will subside and remind myself to bring acupuncture needles next time.
Others have not been as fortunate as Miranda and her mother. One woman’s two children have been seriously injured and are still at the hospital. Another’s aunt has died. A third is missing her husband. A fourth has lost the sight in one eye. The pain from injuries received in the earthquake persist. Memories of loss and unspeakable terror seem to have attached to and continually restimulate the pain—the ever-present physical replaying of the catastrophe, the physical manifestation of psychological trauma and ongoing distress. Some “cannot remember the simplest thing,” or “make any decision.” The blind woman fears that she will not receive medicine without money to pay for it. No one sleeps well. All are fearful of further loss or injury, or—they are not quite sure what.
And, indeed, the situation is enormously stressful. The tents, which look so good, just arrived yesterday, brought by the French Red Cross. . For a month, these people have been sleeping in the open. “We have a committee,” says Wilson, Miranda’s father, “to organize ourselves.” And they are indeed cooking communally. “But we do not have toilets, or other necessary sanitation.” There are no doctors readily available to them, or medicine, or replacements for needed glasses lost, or hope for more adequate or permanent housing, or indeed, much communication with the world beyond the tent city. As we are leaving, Wilson invites us to share the rice that half a dozen families are beginning to eat.
More in days to come.
Day 1, part 1 of 2–Arrival
There is a weight to the air; we begin to feel it at the border where we enter from the Dominical Republic. We can smell it, too, in the swirl of dust that forces some to wear masks, in the acrid edge of burned and burning building materials. It grows heavier as we bump around flanks of rubble on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. In the city, it roughens our voices and presses tears from our eyes.
Happily, surprisingly, we have a place to stay—in the Coconut Villa, a hotel near the airport that is an undisturbed island amidst collapsed houses. Across the street, several thousand Haitians live in tents.
Rosemary Murrain, Star Myrtil, and I are here to see if our approach can help bring psychological relief to the people of Haiti—and to see if we can work with and find support from the large international agencies that are funded to bring food, housing, schools, and emergency medical care to the people. Our approach, which combines such mind-body techniques as meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback, and yoga, self-expression in words, drawings, and movement, and small group support, has made sense to and worked remarkably well with war- and disaster-traumatized populations in Kosovo, Macedonia, Israel and Gaza, in post-Katrina New Orleans, and with US military returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s practical, easy to learn, and feels right to people who are trying to gain control over the thoughts, feelings, and memories that overwhelm them in the wake of catastrophe. We’ve published the only randomized controlled trial (RCT) of any invention of any intervention for war-traumatized kids. It showed an 80% decrease in symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder in Kosovo high school students, an improvement that was maintained at three months’ follow-up. More recent studies on 1,000 children and adults in Gaza show similar sustained gains in spite of the ongoing constraints and tragedy of life there. Altogether, the several thousand clinicians, teachers, and community leaders’ we’ve trained have made our CMBM model available to hundreds of thousands of children and adults around the world.
Rosemary is CMBM’s new Director of Finance and Administration. Immensely capable, unflappable, fluent in French, she’s an MBA student who has helped to create and lead educational programs throughout Africa. She’s in charge of the logistics that brought us on our journey here, and she will help create necessary partnerships. She’s also, I say with pride, my goddaughter. Star is her friend, a Haitian living in Florida, leading women’s programs there and fluent in Creole as well as French; a human bridge for us to Haiti and to its people.
I’ll post more this afternoon, about our visit to the tent city outside our hotel and the people we met there.