Port au Prince, Haiti Day 4, Trip 6

Today we finished a three day “Psychological First Aid” (PFA) training with the Uramel Psychotrauma center. We is myself and Dr. Melissa Brymer of UCLA/NCTSN, a colleague and friend, who is one of the those who originally operationalized Psychological First Aid, a concept that originated in the forties (or fifties?). Melissa was one of the very first people to reach out to me after January 12th, and her support has been invaluable for my work here, and for my own heart.

I began promoting the idea of this training shortly after the earthquake, to both Melissa and to my beloved colleagues at The Uramel Psychotrauma Center. Having first trained with Melissa, through NCTSN, many years ago, I knew the value of this work in the immediacy of a disaster. In the first three months after the earthquake, I provided over 350 individual PFA sessions and 20 something group sessions. It became clearer and clearer to me that this model would benefit Haiti not only in the immediate post disaster phase, but also long term, if local professionals and paraprofessionals are trained to do this work –and train others to do this work — in anticipation of (likely) future disasters and troubles.

The training was a wonderful experience, and much of this is due to Melissa’s amazing skills as a trainer/facilitator, and her intimacy with this work. The first day was challenging–as first days often are. Melissa had “warned” me about the possibility of the sense of a loss of hope, quite common worldwide at this 6 month moment, and while this made sense intellectually, I was quite stunned when myself, along with my Haitian colleagues, friends and family, “dropped in” to the reality of how much hopelessness is emerging in Haiti, now.

After three days, however, there has been a shift–and I find it impossible to describe in the limited realm of words what shifted, and how. I told Melissa that I believe PFA itself instills hope–seeing the energy and engagement of the participants on day 2 and 3 when the material began to “take form”; when their practice sessions revealed amazing sensitivity, skill and enthusiasm; and when conversations about the many ways PFA can “shapeshift” its supportiveness while still adhering to a clear and comprehensive model (which my Haitian colleagues deeply value) — all this contributed to a sense of hope, energy, vitality and life in the room.

There is something bigger that happened, also–but again, no words. I do think PFA can describe itself as a model that increases and enhances hope–whatever that means. Perhaps its the simplicity and universality of the work, embedded in a rich and complex model, that enables this.

As I write, my dance and drum community (The Railyard Community in Santa Fe, under the leadership of Elise and Eric Gent) is fundraising for Trauma Resources International. Many of my dear dance class-mates are performing, as are dancers, drummers musicians and others from New York, West Africa and elsewhere. The proceeds of this fundraiser will enable TRI to continue to support trainings for the Uramel Psychotrauma center (we are currently working on a three year plan for community-based mental health) as well as continue to support the therapeutic program for children in Carrefour, very near the epicenter; and contribute to the work we are doing in partnership with Atletik Payi Ayiti (“ADH”) in Cite Soleil.

The convergence of hope—the “tet ansam” (all of us together) spirit of our PFA training; the dance; the drums; the ceremonies we are preparing for this weekend—tout bagay li fe espwa. Nou pa ka pede espwa paske “espwa li bagay final tout nou pede.”

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