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 . . .
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
Dr. Emmanuel Justima
I originally met Justima (it’s his last name; as he said, he likes to be called that to distinguish him from “other Emmanuels”) at a “psychosocial cluster” meeting to which Lee-Ann and I had been invited. Perhaps 30 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were present. All are working with “psychosocial” issues: the emotional challenges, psychological, and social needs of the close to 2 million people who have lost family members and/or been displaced by the earthquake.
Justima, tall, broad shouldered, slim, in black pants and a crisp checked shirt, entered the room halfway through the meeting and shook hands with the UN coordinators. He stood tall and at ease at the front. When his turn came, he spoke in a voice loud and clear enough that even I– aurally challenged, and still scrambling to recover my French–could understand. And just in case I or anyone else had missed his meticulous instructions on prompt program registration with the Haiti Ministry of Health, he repeated it in flawless English.
Afterwards, Justima began our hour-long private meeting by announcing that PNI (psychoneuroimmunology– the scientific foundation of mind-body medicine), was his “passion as well as [my] professional field of expertise.” For a moment I thought he was putting me on. Another Emmanuel (last name Streel), the psychologist who coordinates the NGO psychosocial programs, had just told me about his own interest in mind-body medicine. “Vraiment?” (“Really?”) I said to Justima in my best, quizzical French.
“Yes,” he replied. “And, of course, we have to teach people to help themselves. There are only 10 psychiatrists in all of Haiti, and not many more psychologists.”
It has long been clear to me, after work with many other traumatized populations, that self-care and mutual help are logical centerpieces of a population-wide mental health program. But how surprising, and how wonderful, that someone so central to the Haitian mental health plan not only welcomes our way of working, but is steeped in the science that supports it.
Justima sits across from me at a narrow table in a prefab corrugated metal UN building, flanked by internationals concerned with similar issues. He takes care of business carefully but briskly, reminding us again of registration requirements, offering to find the most competent translators to put our materials into French and Creole. He carefully repeats phrases I don’t understand.
Around his mouth and in Justima’s eyes, amidst striking efficiency and intelligence, I see the smile of a man who, with all the weight the world has put on him, still enjoys life. I look forward to working with him, and to spending more time with him.
I regret that we didn’t get any pics of Justima. More pics next installment, when we meet Drs. Guiteau & Amedee-Gedeon of the Haitian Red Cross . . .
Haiti is often criticized, even derided for its lack of leadership, or alternately or in addition, for the corruption and cruelty of its leaders. And there is, no question, a long legacy, during and after slavery, of oppression; and of political, social, economic, and spiritual hopes raised and devastatingly betrayed.
On the other hand — and there is definitely another hand — the Haitian people are blessed, at least within the fields I’m coming to know best (medicine, mental health, and public health) by a leadership group that is knowledgeable, thoughtful, and skillful, as deeply committed to the welfare of its people and as open-minded as any I’ve found anywhere in the world. These Haitian leaders seem at this crucial moment in history far less encumbered with the self-importance and pride that afflicts many national and, indeed, professional leaders I have known. Their commitment to the welfare of their people and their compassion trump received truths and narrow professional prerogatives.
Already you’ve met two of these remarkable people: Alix Lassegue, the physician who directs the University Hospital, and Marlaine Thompson, the nurse who works closely with him. Together, they embrace the flood of people who overwhelm the hospital. They shape the comprehensive services for the complex problems that their patients, overwhelmed by the earthquake as well as the ordinary calamities of Port-au-Prince daily life, bring to them. In the next few blog entries I’ll introduce you to several other of these remarkable men and women, the welcoming leaders and kind teachers with whom we hope to be working closely in the months and years ahead.
Monseigneur Pierre Andre DuMas
There are certain people, who upon entering a room, fill and light it up. Monseigneur Pierre Andre Dumas, bishop of the Diocese Anse-a-veau/Miragoane and president of the Catholic Church’s service arm, Caritas, and Dr. Emmanuel Justima, a psychologist who is a leader in shaping the Haitian national mental health plan (whom you’ll meet next installment) are two.
Pierre Andre DuMas is tall, supple, gray-haired, and dressed in gray vestments. Sitting with him I feel myself warmed by his abundant energy and his generous sweet nature. Though I have never met him before, I somehow feel that I know him. Like my old close friends, we simply share what is most important to us, find ourselves embellishing each others’ narratives, and quickly invite each other into our unfolding lives.
I tell Pierre Andre a little bit about our work and where we have done it, and he smiles with recognition. He invites me to present our way of healing trauma to Haiti’s religious leaders, “as soon as we can arrange it.” It is part of his job, he tells us, to bring together Protestants as well as Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Voudoun practitioners.
He tells us about the thousands who have returned from Port-au-Prince to his rural diocese and the dislocation and suffering they bring with them. On Good Friday, he hiked up a nearby mountain with 6000 people from his diocese. “We sat by a waterfall and breathed deeply, relaxed — Like your work, no? Some of us swam. All of us needed a catharsis.”
When I give him a copy of my book Unstuck, I assure him that he will enjoy it even though he’s not depressed. “I know that you know that I am not,” he says. “If you are still alive,” he adds, opening his hands, “you have to stand up and give hope.”
Next installment, meet Emmanuel Justima, a psychologist working on Haiti’s National Mental Health Plan