Monday, August 9, 2010

Home Again

We made it home safe and sound! Our days were long and we worked hard. We will never forget what we experienced while in Haiti.
While in Haiti, we obtained 120 completed survey packets assessing the relationship between various aspects of spirituality and post-traumatic growth and spiritual transformation. We also conducted more than forty semi-structured interviews in which individuals shared their experiences with the earthquake, how they are coping, what helps them cope, what continues to be difficult, the role of spirituality during and following the earthquake, the meaning they derive from the experience, the implications they feel this experience has on their future and the future of Haiti, and how the event has impacted their views of God and their overall faith. We noted that the quantitative assessment instruments were difficult for many people to fill out. They were unfamiliar with the concept of reporting experience/feelings/thoughts in terms of a likert-type scale. This experience informed us for future research with similar populations. We heard stories of faith, inspiration, and struggle in our interviews. A number of participants thanked us for the opportunity to tell their stories. Many attributed much of their well-being to God’s guidance and comfort in their lives. Some continue to have “why” questions. None of the participants reported a permanent decrease in their faith and most indicated a sharp increase in their faith and spiritual growth following the earthquake.
While in Haiti we met with two committees of helpers for training on four different occassions. In the training sessions, we followed up on the training offered by LDS social services previously and offered additional training pertinent to this stage of trauma recovery. We also conducted training on addressing secondary stress. Secondary stress occurs when helpers experience symptoms of traumatic stress from hearing the stories of those they are trying to help. This is especially likely to occur when the helpers are not professionally trained. We traveled to Jacmel for one of the trainings. While in Jacmel, Brenna conducted a youth activity and I spoke to the youth about hope for the future.
We also visited a tent community in Frere on four days to assist Gabriel (the local psychology student trained by psychologists in February) in assessing the needs of the community, and to conduct interviews. From our visits we ascertained that many members were feeling lonely and alienated and experiencing a lack of purpose in their daily lives.
On our final day in Frare, we facilitated a community meeting in which we invited members of the community to share their needs with one another. Gabriel conducted the meeting, and I facilitated the problem solving session. From this discussion, members of the community concluded that they would like to have a community game night on Fridays at 6 p.m., and a community prayer on Sunday evenings. One member of the community volunteered to be the activity leader. They also concluded that they would like to share their gifts and talents with one another. They will come prepared to the first community game night to list the gifts and talents they could share with each other and try to match their talents with various needs. The children performed a game/dance taught to them earlier in the week by Brenna. Then the adults joined in the activity. We also sang together as a group, and some members of the group stood up front and shared jokes. The group seemed to have a lot of fun and spirits were lifted.
I met with a local clergy from the Pition-ville to learn of the emotional needs of the members of his congregation, and to respond to a request he had to help him determine the best approach for meeting the needs of a particular youth in his congregation. I also met with him to listen to and support his own burdens as a clergyman during such a difficult time personally (having buried his own mother and sister as a result of the earthquake) and for his people.
We also met with students from the school in which Gabriel teaches. The school is interfaith and predominately Catholic. Students eighteen years and older filled out surveys. We also conducted a discussion session and encouraged hope and future focus, while listening to their concerns about their futures. Also in terms of community outreach, we met with Kevin Osborne from Catholic Relief Services. In this meeting, Kevin invited us to conduct research with two populations of volunteers in a future visit. He also expressed interest in future collaborative efforts. We worked with Sr. Vivian in outreach and research efforts for her faith community.
Overall, our time in Haiti was well spent. We learned much and are changed from the experience. Haiti needs our help. Church leaders in Haiti are calling for people who can help with career development, establishment of schools, and those who can teach English. Psychological attention and training is needed. The needs are great, and we are small. These past two weeks I learned that small people can make a difference if they just pick a place to begin.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

We are deep into the work we came to do here. The quantitative part of our study uses assessments to help participants explore their coping abilities, their relationship to God, how their faith has changed, and what meaning they are making of their experiences during and after the devastating Jan. 12, 20210 earthquake. (We’re using the Spiritual Assessment Inventory; Daily Spiritual Experiences Scale; Spiritual Transformation Scale; Posttraumatic Growth Inventory [Short Form]; and a form that asks spiritual and religious practices questions, three open-ended qualitative questions, and a demographic information as well as resources loss; all of these have been translated into French.) Sister Vivian, our delightful hostess, and Brother Gabriel, a local counselor working with a tent community, have taken our cause as their own. Thanks to them and other community leaders, we are getting many completed surveys distributed and collected for our future analyses.
Our primary qualitative study uses a semi-structured interview for Haitian residents 18 and older. Here, we are exploring in more detail questions including people’s personal accounts of the earthquake; how it has changed their lives; the challenges they face; the coping skills they are using; whether or not their faith has changed; and if so, how; and the meaning they see for themselves and Haiti in the aftermath. We are by turns touched, amazed, and sober as we sit in witness of their accounts. “It feels so good to be able to tell my story to someone who cares and will listen,” is a very typical comment. “This is the first time I’ve been able to do so since the earthquake.”
A third, valuable service we are bringing is the opportunity to provide some short-term counseling, as well as meet with some local church leaders. We are providing them with training in simple coping skills that they can use to help their people after we are gone.
Perhaps the biggest gift we bring is to all the children we are meeting. They run to greet us as we arrive at the tent city, shouting “Bonjour! Bonjour!” They hug us, grab our hands, giggling and smiling broadly. Brenna is a Pied Piper of fun and connection, leading songs, ball games, drawing pictures. Her “robot dance” is an encore favorite! We all feel joy in their play, for they are a key part of the hope for Haiti.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

(7/27/10) by Deb Rollison

“Be careful where you step,” Sr. Vivian cautions, “and follow me.” Her advice is more than mere courtesy. I concentrate, going up the stairs in her home, damaged by the Jan. 12earthquake. Four steps walking on the left, next to the wall . . . cross over, three steps on the right, then over again left. Navigating in Port-au-Prince, Haiti requires alertness, attention, and a caring, savvy guide like Sr. Vivian. We move from sidewalk to street and back, dodging piles of rubble left in the street, sudden ten-foot-deep gaps in sidewalks, and tents. Everywhere are tiny stands selling everything from fruit to car parts; we also navigate around leaning walls, rubble-trapped cars, and an always-moving swirl of cars and people. Car horns and the whine of buzz saws—the hopeful sounds of reconstruction—fill the air. Sr. Vivian explains kindly and firmly that we have no money, as the parade of people approach us – a mother with a lethargic, naked boy . . . an old, stooped woman . . . a young woman needing medicine . . . a man who wants money for a sandwich and soda. How much a dollar would mean to them, and how little to me – but whom do I choose? I’m learning to say no while clamping down the ache in my heart at their endless, never-ending needs. Yet my heart keeps opening in response to all the smiles, the “Bonjours!” and “Coman ou ye?” (“How are you?” in Creole). Many Haitians don’t want their photos taken, so I look for sensitive angles and distant shots. I’m also learning the importance of setting expectations ahead of time. We are here, in large measure, to listen to people’s stories and bear witness to their spiritual journeys. Some people, though, are hoping we’ll pay them after doing so. I’m still thinking about the young boy near the Presidential Palace yesterday (7/26), a jagged scar between nose and cheek. Rag in hand, he kept trotting after our car as we crawled along in traffic, ignoring the danger, wiping our windows, wiping, his expression and hands asking for money. Our eyes meet, and I must look away; yet his face remains. I can only send him a silent prayer. My prayer for today: “Dear God, please help me to be careful where I step, yet be open and follow You where you would lead us. Amen"
It is warm in Haiti this week. Even the Haitians are complaining about the heat!
We are now staying at Mathew 25 House. It is a hostel for helpers/volunteers in Haiti. There are people here from various fields and backgrounds. After witnessing so much devastation and apparent lack of progress over the past few days, it is encouraging to experience people using their talents and gifts to help in the restoration of Haiti.
We have handed many more surveys than expected. Most people in Haiti do not understand the purpose, nature, and process of filling out surveys. It is a western concept. Much time is vested in explanation of the process. We have also conducted a number of qualitative interviews and will conduct many more over the next several days. So far, we have learned a great deal from our tours and informative sessions with the locals.
We have also engaged in a very productive service and research plan for a local community in Port-au-Prince. The meeting helped us conceptualize and organize the training needs of several LDS members in the community. We have participated in worship services, includingn a Novena, following which we were able to conduct some interviews and pass out and collect surveys. I have also spent time preparing for training meetings in which I will help committee members here in Port-au-Prince strategize about meeting spiritual and emotional needs of the people. I will also be training members in addressing basic post-traumatic needs. I have also been planning for a tent community meeting of 150 individuals. The meeting is intended to encourage unity and collective efficacy.
I will be conducting a “Fireside Chat” for Latter-day Saint youth. Leaders asked me to address the question: “How can I still have hope for my future?” A humbling request.
Today we will be conducting interviews and engaging in a training meeting. We will also do some touring of outlying communities. Jeane-Phillippe (JP) has proven to be a fabulous translator, avid advocate for the research cause, and a skilled driver---and I assure you driving here takes much finesse!!!
Did I mention that it is hot here?!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Used-To-Be Tour

We are staying with Sister Vivian in Port-au-Prince. She has graciously housed us in tents in her fenced- in yard. She feeds us and helps us in our efforts to reach out and to learn about and from the people of Haiti. She has lived in Haiti for eleven years. She is a part of the people.
The days move with the rhythm of the sun. We sleep and wake by it. This means 8:00 o’clock bedtime and 4:30-5:00 a.m. awakenings. We could not sleep in beyond that time because the city around us is alive and noisy by then. Yesterday Sr. Vivian gave us, what she calls the “Used-to-be” tour of the city blocks around her home. She pointed at heaps of cement rubble and told us what that building used to be. She pointed to houses, and told us of the names of those who used to be there, followed by, “I do not know where she/he is now. I do not know if she/he is still alive, if they left the country, or if they will ever be back.” She is haunted by what was and what happened every time she leaves her house.
The night before we arrived was the first night Sr. Vivian slept in her house. She and the two girls that live with her have slept in the tents outside their house long after the damage to their house was repaired. They slept there because they were too afraid to sleep inside of their house. She explained, “My heart pounds and my inside shake and tremor when I lay in my bed. I have to keep telling myself over and over that I am safe.”
The streets are difficult to pass through because they are blocked by piles of rubble and tents. People have set up tents and makeshift tarps everywhere in the streets, because the streets are the safest place to sleep. The buildings and houses that remain are unstable and still pose threat to anyone near them. There are also a number of tent communities. We will be visiting with the people in these communities over the next several days.
We visited the Church of the Sacred Heart. Pews, alters, and religious statues have been set up outside where the remainder of the church used to be. People continue to worship. A cross and the Virgin Mary remained undamaged while all crumbled around them. People approach these figures in reference as symbols of God’s presence in their lives. They bring pictures of loved ones lost before the symbols, praying that God will keep them safe. This brings them some comfort. We also visited a chapel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The children flocked to us, touching my pale skin and feeling the texture of my hair. Church attendance on Sundays has risen from 150 people to 250 since the earthquake. People draw strength from worship and from the fellowship of one another. It brings them comfort and a sense of hope for the future.
We have begun to hear stories. The stories are stories of devastation, tremendous loss, injury, and of faith. We have heard about how the screams of others who could not be rescued continues to ring in the ears and hearts of those who survived. We have heard of heroic effort to help during the quake and after.
One woman on the street told us that she was in a building that crumbled under the quake. She was there with her daughter and son-in-law and their two little children. She was in one room with the children while the daughter and her husband were in another. She says that she heard a voice tell her to leave quickly. She grabbed the two children and quickly left. Immediately after leaving, the building crumbled. She and the children survived, but the parents of the children did not. The woman lost her home, and is now left to raise the two little ones without their parents and without a home. Her faith that God will continue to help her gives her hope. Another survivor reaches out daily in small and big ways to those who suffered loss in the earthquake because she believes God wants her to help others since she was spared.
We will hear more stories--many more stories. We will then share these stories and learn from. Perhaps by learning we will find some ways to help our brothers and sisters in Haiti and those who suffer traumatic life events in other lands.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Research in Haiti

Dr. Kari A. O’Grady will be going to Port-au-Prince to learn about the role spirituality is playing in the lives of the survivors of the earthquake and in the lives of volunteers who have come to Haiti to help restore the communities. She will be investigating psychological and spiritual consequences of spiritual experiences and practices for the people in Haiti during this stage of trauma recovery though quantitative measures. She will also invite people in Haiti to share how their faith and spirituality has impacted them and been impacted over the months following the earthquake through in-depth interviews and quantitative measures.

During her stay in Haiti, Dr. O’Grady will also offer a workshop for local clergy to assist them in their efforts to help their faith community. Unfortunately when a large scale trauma impacts a nation, there is typically a dearth of trained professionals to implement interventions that promote growth and restoration. Training leaders in the community is one way to expand the availability of mental health helpers. Clergy are often the primary point of contact for people struggling with the aftermath of trauma (Benedek, Fullerton, 2007; Bradfield, Wylie, Echterling, 1989; North & Hong, 2000). Pastoral counseling doctoral student, Deb Rollison, and Brenna O'Grady, psychology major at Southern Virginia University, will be assisting Dr. O'Grady