Tagged Trauma

Helping Haitians to Heal, Part 4

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.

(by Naftali Halberstadt for CMBM)

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.”

(by Mark Silverberg for CMBM)

“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.

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Helping Haitians to Heal, Part 3

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 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.

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Helping Haitians to Heal, part 2

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.

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CMBM’s Drawing Exercise Resonates in Haiti

We 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 . . . .

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At School in Haiti: Andre’s Story

At the end of the third class, a quiet, solemn boy asks if he can speak with me. “What,” he had wondered during class, “about memories of the lost person that come back again and again?”

Andre says that he has great difficulty falling asleep, and when he finally does, nightmares always come. “I feel so helpless. I cannot talk to anyone.” He grabs his throat with every other sentence. When I mention the gesture, he tells me that his “words are stuck in my throat. And I am afraid to cry. It is not manly.”

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At School: A Place to Help Haitian Children II

We keep our sessions as simple and clear as we can: an introduction to fight-or-flight, stress, and trauma, answers to their questions, and three lessons. Here they are:

1. Slow deep breathing with the belly soft. This, we explain, is the antidote to the flight or flight and stress response that the earthquake has inscribed in the kids’ minds and bodies. Soft belly will quiet their physiology, slow their racing thoughts, give them a little perspective on the flashbacks . . . .

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Meetings with Remarkable Haitians—Dr. Jean Hugues Henrys and Dr. Alex Larsen

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.

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Meetings with Remarkable Haitians: Drs. Guiteau & Amedee-Gedeon

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. We had two such unexpected happy events – meeting with four more remarkable people on the last two days of our visit. . . .

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