The view from Soeurs Salesiennes school where we are doing our training opens out to the sea of Haiti’s south coast. Nuns glide quietly over the grounds and little girls in white blouses and blue jumpers with beribboned hair skip hand in hand.
We are working in a school because no hotel in Jacmel can accommodate our crew-120 trainees plus 40 international faculty, interns, interpreters and staff. We need separate rooms for each of a dozen small groups as well as the grande salle for all 160. Many of the students are on vacation for Carnival and the Sisters who run the school have generously made it available to us.
Meanwhile, Carnival made it almost impossible for us to find any hotel rooms. And those we have are fraught with complications-not enough beds, no water, absent or erratic air conditioning in 90 degree heat, etc. Minor inconveniences really, but reminders of the much greater hardships that almost all Haitians have to endure. The fact that we are able to have the training at all makes me so grateful for all the efforts of Linda Metayer, our Haitian program director, and LeeAnn, Jesse, and Wilguens, our US & Haitian administrative team.
Usual first day confusion and chaos-90 out of 120 doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, teachers, priests, nuns, and voodoo healers show up. “Oh, did it begin today?” wonder some of the absent ones whom Linda and Regine, one of our interns, called. “We will be there later” they say, and indeed most of them appear.
There are nine in my small group (more tomorrow I am sure) plus Regine, who also teaches yoga each morning, and Marc my interpreter. There’s a wonderful young pediatrician who supervises 40 professionals in the public hospital in Jacmel. She has been in one of Linda’s workshops and comes to our training like a hungry woman to a feast. “Everything” she says “I want to bring everything I am learning to my team.” There are nurses and teachers, the directrice of the regional chapter of the Croix Rouge, a sister who is a school principle, and some people with less formal education who are committed to helping those who continue to suffer from the earthquake and its aftermath. The middle-aged farmer who is helping in the schools and seems to be the head of his local mountain village concludes the first group; “If we had had these techniques before or even just after the earthquake we would have been less victims.”
James S. Gordon MD, a psychiatrist, is the author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey Out of Depression and the Founder, Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC, and Dean of the College of Mind-Body Medicine with Saybrook University.
Mark Silverberg is a welcome guest blogger. He is an Ohio businessman who read about our work in Gaza (in the NY Times) and got in touch. “I want to volunteer and help,” he said. “I can take pictures.” He came with us to Haiti–we saw the pictures, felt Mark’s heart, and now he is a dear part of our team. He sent us this account of his time in the tent camps.
Enjoy his story.
We hiked to three tent camps on the side of a mountain today, Thursday morning. Hot as heck. What I saw cannot be described– 13,000 people live in one camp alone. The pictures and videos only begin to tell the story. We were given a tour through the camps by the residents who are elected to help coordinate running the camps, so a school and homes were opened to us. The camp organizers kept introducing us to people and children with problems and asking us how they can help them. We suggested they apply to take the CMBM training. [Note: if this is your first time to the blog, you can read other posts about CMBM's Haiti trainings to help Haitian caregivers help these kids & families]. The visit was a very humbling experience.
An extraordinary experience on Friday morning. I went to the Champ de Mars tent camp across the street from where the CMBM training program was held at to take printed pictures to the kids and families I photographed during the CMBM training in December 2010. Laurent Sheineder helped me find all of the kids and adults in the pictures. They were very surprised to see their pictures and of course posed for many more! They told Laurent and I that of all of the people who had taken their pictures I am the only one to bring them copies. I think they must feel invisible.
Then at lunchtime the organizers of another nonprofit, Zanmi Lakay (ZM) from Oakland, CA picked me up and we went to Cite Soleil. It’s the worst slum in the poorest city in the hemisphere. And we weren’t in the BAD part of the slum. This was big time scary.
ZM organizes basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education) for homeless children in Port au Prince. Before the earthquake they had a home and facilities for many children, but the earthquake destroyed the house so the kids are spread out in three clusters in Cite Soleil and Jacmel. The kids also receive documentary photography cameras and training in their care so they can document their lives, tell their stories and express their hopes and aspirations. There have been 5 gallery shows across the US (SF, NYC, DC, Florida) to raise awareness and funds. The kids’ pictures are sold to benefit the organization that helps care for them.
So I was able to be at the first gallery show in Port au Prince, at a cyber cafe in Cite Soleil today. Forget what you think about a cyber cafe. Small, dark, a few folding chairs – but still a space for their pictures, which were taped to the wall with packaging tape. The original location where the show was to open had too many shootings, so it had to move to this new location.
The kids got to see their pictures on the wall, to hear about the gallery shows in the US and the great reviews they got, received certificates for completion of their photography training–I donated items and foodstuffs from CMBM faculty and staff. They asked me to speak, and I told them about teaching photography to kids their age in a poor inner-city Cleveland neighborhood nearly 40 years ago. I encouraged them to continue using photography to express themselves and to clarify their dream, since their dream will keep them going through hard times. It was a gift to be present for the recognition of their struggles and accomplishments.
After leaving Haiti the memories of those two days kept echoing in my mind. I recalled that when I was leaving the school in the mountainside tent camp on Thursday, one of the kids said repeatedly, “We are waiting for you,”–meaning, “waiting for you to return.” On the following day when I brought the pictures to the kids and families in the Champ de Mars tent camp, their reaction was often puzzlement. I later realized it was because their expectation was for people to not come back, to not remember them or be touched by what they saw; to return to their normal lives, unmoved and unchanged.
I hope I’m not that person.
As the anniversary of Haiti’s catastrophic January 12, 2010, earthquake approaches, physical and emotional symptoms that were ebbing or had disappeared, are rising. We hear it everywhere as we– Linda Metayer, our Haiti program director, and I–move through a day of visits and talks with staff at the General Hospital and the Ministry of Health, as well as with kids and adults in tent camps in Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince that is a city of half a million.
Headaches have intensified, and sleep is ever more disturbed by sudden awakenings and half remembered nightmares. Irritability and anger sweep people away in rage at children, who are themselves agitated by neighbors who are too close and too ever-present, too troubled and helpless, too painfully mirroring their own suffering.
Everyone knows in their bodies, as well as from the calendar, that the anniversary is coming, but there is little plan for public ceremony that might make remembrance and mourning easier, and bring hope for a happier future. The program that Linda Metayer and Rene Domercant (a Ministry of Health official who attended our first training in December) have organized at the General Hospital is a happy exception.
After an introduction by Dr Jocelyn Pierre-Louis, one of the Ministry of Health’s leaders and a strong supporter of CMBM’s program, Linda, Rene and I speak. Our talks are nicely paired: Linda and I discuss the extent of psychological trauma and the practical steps people can take to heal themselves and their communities psychologically, and I teach slow, relaxing soft belly breathing and get everyone to move their body. A number of these professionals appreciate the immediate effectiveness and ease of the techniques – “I feel so calm,” says one; “So calm I went to sleep,” adds another, and everyone laughs, recognizing the tension that keeps them awake and the need for rest. “I felt tears come,” another woman adds – all the emotion that needs to be released, I suggest, and she nods.
Afterwards Rene, who is an engineer as well as a psychologist, shows slides from a manual for safe rebuilding: foundations propped and buttressed so they are no longer unbalanced and unstable, second stories supported by first floors that have sustaining walls. Each slide is paired a “Don’t” in red which can lead to collapse in a future earthquake, a “Do” in green – the safe way to sustain a dwelling and save lives. These slides will be shown everywhere in Haiti and distributed in booklets, Rene tells us.
What a pleasantly surprising symmetry and pairing: principles and building blocks for new safe houses, and for emotional and physical self-care–a hopeful beginning for the new year.
To be continued tomorrow–the anniversary of the Haiti earthquake . . .
Fire on the Streets, Peace in Our Circle
CMBM Training, Day Five
25 participants come today, making their way to the hotel around barricades and tire fires in the streets avoiding the demonstrators armed more and more now with guns as well as machetes. Just outside the hotel several men, apparently from one political party, have opened fire on others. Three are dead.
The tent camp on the Champ de Mars is uneasy. People are moving away from the street, ahead of rumors of revenge for political sympathies that some feel are unacceptable. Inside the hotel, its gates locked, its security guards on alert, we feel pretty safe. We’re sitting in a large circle answering questions, sharing what we have learned and are learning. “Is it helpful?” a psychologist asks, “to talk about what makes us afraid? Shouldn’t we use images to make it go away?”
“We cannot force away our fear,” I say. “It doesn’t seem to work. The fear will return.” Heads nod in agreement.
“But isn’t it possible to relax with your fears?” a teacher asks.
“Yes,” I respond, happy at an apt pupil, “that is exactly what we teach.”
“Well,” grinning now, he says, “Let me tell you about yesterday. I was at my school and there was shooting outside between political parties and everyone was upset and very scared. I said, ‘I’ve been in a training and I’ve learned a technique for relaxing even in such difficult situations.’ So, I taught them the safe place images. We sat for ten minutes or so, and afterwards the shooting was still going, but we were smiling and talking with each other, and even singing together.”
And so it goes for the rest of the day, stories of finding a little calm in the chaos, our participants’ eagerness to take what they are learning into their homes, classrooms and clinics.
“My bishop,” a priest tells me, “wants everyone in the parish to learn what you are teaching.” The dean of the midwifery school says she will begin tomorrow to bring our work into the delivery room, to all “sage femmes” who will attend the births of the next generation.
CMBM Training, Days 2-3, continued
During the training, we do a drawings exercise, a sequence of three pages: one of “one’s self,” “one’s biggest problem” and “the solution to the problem”- and they are as always a revelation. They display what is inside each person and the images of one participant so often are a mirror for those of others.
The biggest problem of one physician here is shown as a clot of black guilt and fear and shame, of inhibited action and feeling buried under a mountain. She is straining for faith, toward a distant Jesus, and to do what must be done. But she feels unable to move or believe. In the third drawing all the conflicted colors of the mountain are striped in an arc du ciel, a rainbow. “ I was buried,” she says, “and now in this drawing I can see myself free, imagine myself again with my God.” (To learn more about our drawing exercises, read this post, “CMBM’s Drawing Exercise Resonates in Haiti,” when we introduced it in June.)
“I have in my drawings,” says Linda, the psychologist who coordinates our Haiti program, “dropped the mask of sunny happiness that I felt I had to put on. I have allowed myself to feel the loss of my father last week. And dancing and crying,” she adds, pointing to her third drawing, “I have found the authentic happiness inside myself.”
Checking in emotionally on the second day, my group members find their own choked-off voices- amazing how many cough and clear their throats and say they have forgotten how to say how they feel. They speak and are heard, listened, and they recognize that they are actually here with others who care and not alone. A nun and teacher who at first had felt so lonely as the only religious (woman) in the group realizes that she is not alone at all, “My images of pain and sadness are so similar to those of others. Showing you my drawings, telling you about them, I feel you are my sisters, and my brothers too.”
After the first day our participants are already using what they have learned. Several speak of “traffic meditation,” pulling over to the curb amidst Port-au-Prince’s daily madness, soft belly breathing (click here for a short guided meditation) until they are “calme” and “douce,” peaceful, soft and amazingly unhurried. A psychologist at odds with her teenage son reports asking him to breathe deeply with her and dissolving the tension that had led to fights, “…every night since the earthquake.” Several say that deep breathing and shaking and dancing had allowed them to sleep peacefully for the first time ever since January 12th.
Here is a short video of Linda Metayer, our Haiti Clinical/Program Director, describing what she feels Haitian trainees are gaining here:
(video by Mark Silverberg for CMBM)
The Training Begins– Day Two & Three
Tears are everywhere. Like high water behind a dam, you can see them swelling, pressing for release in the stiff bodies and taut faces of men and women who gather for the first day of our training.
We’ve selected 120 clinicians, educators and religious leaders. About that many crowd the registration desk and fill the chairs in our lecture hall. But they aren’t exactly the 120 that we invited.
This is the beginning of our Haiti training, but before I tell you about these new colleagues of ours and about what we are learning together, I have to jump to Wednesday morning—Day Four– and to the hours last night, after the election results were in. Demonstrators filled the streets outside our hotel in front of the Champs De Mars, angry thousands protesting results which certified President Preval’s son-in-law in-waiting, Jude Celestin, as a participant in a run-off election. Last night our team heard the pop of gunshots as a counterpoint to the rhythm of music from the hotel band. This morning, smoke from fires fills the air as demonstrators march toward, and, we are told, destroy Celestin’s headquarters.
Everyone we meet believes Mrs. Mirlande Manigat was indeed the legitimate top vote getter, and they are convinced that another candidate, Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly, the pop singer, had more votes than Celestin and if he didn’t, someone else certainly did.
The election results seem to the Haitians only the most recent insult, the latest dismissal of their sovereignty, indeed of their humanity- -once again the big man appoints his successor. All the frustration of all of their months since the earthquake and all the years before, all the pain we’ve seen in the tent dwellers on the Champ de Mars and in the faces of the men and women we are training is erupting- moving this afternoon uphill towards Celestin’s headquarters, and the homes of the rich and powerful.
On this day of anger and danger, only half a dozen of our participants have made their way through large, angry, often armed mobs and small fires. The rest however, have been on the phone, “Tomorrow?” “Don’t do too much today; we don’t want to miss anything.” “Can your international team stay another day?”
Back to the Beginning-Training, Day 2
On Day Two some of our invited participants were kept away by the urgent demands of cholera care, and by fears of the demonstrations that had not yet occurred. But others arrived from the Ministry of Health, the universities, the schools and churches to take their place. By the second day these eager volunteers and the original invitees were joined by the latecomers and by some who have somehow heard stories about unexpected relaxation and education, welcome, and safety. At lunch we feed 145.
The small groups which are central to this adventure in self discovery and self-care- so supportive and inviting for men and women who have held back personal feeling in favor of continual service to others- have swollen in size.
12 or 14 men and women sit in circles meditating, breathing in through their nose and out through their mouth, allowing their bellies to relax, expand, become soft. After they open their eyes they share who they are, what they do, and why they took five days from over burdened schedules to be with us. They speak in turn about the first morning’s large group lectures and “experiential exercises.”
“After the shaking and dancing,” an anesthesiologist begins, “I felt freer. There are not many people in my profession and after the earthquake we did amputations all the time. It was painful. I lost my spontaneity. I think we all have. It was good to dance.” (Read more about the shaking and dancing we used in Haitian schools here)
As we go around the circle the possibility of sitting peacefully, of relaxing at the end of the day, rises on horizons dimmed by almost unimaginable loss, “I have tried,” another physician says, “to bury myself in work so that I do not think of all of those who have died and are buried in the ground.”
“Or are still buried under piles of concrete,” another adds with grim precision.
To be continued tomorrow–check back to learn about how CMBM’s healing drawing exercises and what the participants appreciate about the training.
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.
We move during the rest of our week in Haiti from one group of health professionals and community leaders to another. It is a slow progress through the traffic jams in Port-Au-Prince’s rubble-narrowed streets, and sometimes even slower over the gorged-out, flooded dirt roads that take us to Bishop Pierre Andre Dumas’ diocese in Anse-a-Veau, three hours outside the city.
We use a variety of techniques in our workshops, including explanation of the fight-or-flight and stress responses, meditations, guided imagery, and shaking and dancing. We also do a drawing exercise that has been enormously helpful to children and adults in war, post-war, and post-disaster situations, in Kosovo, Gaza, Israel, and New Orleans, and with US military. For a while, everyone—bent over paper, crayons in hand—becomes young, earnest, playful, surprised.
The drawings allow people to tap into their intuition and imagination without effort. As a series of pictures unfolds, they find themselves creating images they’d never imagined, sketching solutions to problems that seemed insoluble.
In Haiti, we guide our groups through three drawings. The first picture is of “yourself,” the second, “you and your greatest problem,” and the third calls for “the solution to that problem.” (We modify the exercise when we use it with children: read my post about using the drawing exercise with Haitian children in the General Hospital.) Afterwards, participants share their drawings in groups of two or three, telling what they see in what they’ve created and how it makes them feel. Then they have the opportunity to share with the entire group.
As you will see, the results are often touching, and almost always surprising.
Here are a few examples and snapshots of the workshops in which they are created:
For L’Institut Haïtien pour la Doctrine Sociale Chrétienne (Haitian Institute for the Christian Social Doctrine)
Such wonderful, accomplished people: 100 of them—physicians, architects, lawyers, police officials, business men and women. All, in this time of crisis, are renewing their commitment to the welfare of those who have suffered even more than they have. They tell us about the terrible sadness—their own, and others—and about unaccustomed irritation that surfaces at home and at work, as if, somehow, angry will could restore what has been lost.
An obstetrician/gynecologist, tall, broad-shouldered, powerful and handsome in a bright, tailored shirt, has come “for rest and peace—I have not slept since January 12th.” He says he works “always” to forget the loss of his house, the deaths in his family—his sister, nieces, nephews—as well as to care for his patients. In his second drawing (a picture of his biggest problem), he is inside a tunnel, tiny as an ant, lost, unable to touch the equally tiny figures outside. In the third (a picture of his problem’s solution), the figures are larger, recognizably human. They are dancing together and he is laughing, “for the first time since the quake.”
For Anse-a-Veau diocese—nuns, priest, lay brothers
Out in the countryside a couple days later, we are meeting with priests, nuns, and lay brothers in Bishop Dumas’ diocese. It’s like rural Africa out here: lush, green and very still, faded pastel cottages with tiny yards in which seeds, sown or thrown, produce a few vegetables and fruits. We begin and end our visit with Bishop Dumas’ blessing and simple ceremonial meals: tiny, boned, tender white fish, rice, beans, greens, fresh lemonade and thick coffee.
The religious, in straight-backed chairs, are as still and elegant as the statues in the porticos of Chartres. They are so attentive, so sweet tempered amidst the flood of suffering, homeless, city people that the earthquake has forced back to the countryside. One priest draws a scene of despair—“The Cross of Death—Good Friday without Easter Sunday,”—and then, in his third picture, much to his amazement, produces a sun that covers the page with radiant yellow. “It’s the sun of freedom. Together we can overcome.”
They dance, too—nuns, brothers, and priests together—as freely and as happily as children. Before we finish in mid-afternoon, another, older priest calls the Bishop from the next diocese. It turns out he would like us to come there.
More soon about another workshop, this time with the Haitian Red Cross staff and volunteers . . .