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.