By Joni Zweig
Lots of good news coming from our teams in Port-au-Prince. Two months have now passed since the earthquake, and people have begun to settle and adapt to the circumstances with characteristic resilience. The construction of latrines in many of the camps is nearing completion, and groups of men are busy chopping poles to construct large community tents for clinics, meetings, religious services and other collective events. Following are excerpts from reports I have received from our teams on the ground.
We successfully completed our second week of the CFS program for children at our base. Facilitators are stepping into their own comfortable rhythm with the children and are providing a wide range of educational play activities. They were assisted this week by eight student volunteers from Wesleyan College who offered a range of talents from playing guitar to demonstrating gymnastics. The children are starting to feel the flow of the daily activities while getting to know each other gradually in this safe space. At the end of each session, children implore to stay longer! In the upcoming week we will open three more centers at Cineas Camp, Petionville Club and Bureau de Min. Over 650 children were registered for the opening of programs at Petionville Club and Bureau de Min.
On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited our Child-Friendly Space program which just opened on Friday in a camp of 45,000 people. He spent time talking with Sarita, the director of the CFS program, and with the children. It has been great to see the kids coming alive with energy and creativity within the newly opened site.
On March 13, the Amurtel team went to the Sitron Camp as part of an ongoing program to help people deal with the post-traumatic stress symptoms many are experiencing, due in part to the continuing strong aftershocks that rock each camp three and four times a day. On this day, the camp committee announced a women's gathering and the women quickly began spreading large gray tarps on the bare ground.
As the women began gathering, it seemed at first that there would be plenty of space to do the deep relaxation exercises and yoga that the Amurtel team had planned, along with Gretchen from Global Grassroots, who has worked facilitating women's trauma recovery for survivors of the Rwandan genocide. But soon the space on the tarps was completely packed with at least 150 women and girls of all ages, and even the men in the camp had gathered around in interest. Plans were quickly improvised to adapt to the tight space.
We opened the gathering by explaining the normal reactions to a stressful event such as the earthquake. As we described common experiences, such as trembling, difficulties with sleep, racing heartbeat, over-sensitivity to certain sounds, hyper-alertness and more, the women began nodding empathically and eagerly joined in discussion, sharing their own experiences vividly.
They all expressed great relief at discovering that they were not sick but rather having a normal reaction to an abnormal event. They listened with keen interest as we described how the stress-regulating system in our bodies, intended to help us survive trauma, can remain stuck "on" in ways that become unhealthy. We then led the group in a series of breathing exercises, followed by some loosening stretches and yoga exercises. This was followed by a session of relaxation with slow, regular, timed breathing designed to awaken a relaxation response and turn the stress system "off."
The women were elated to share how they felt lighter, rested and hopeful that they would be able to return to normal again with techniques which were simple and easy to remember for practicing on their own. The session ended with singing on a joyful, uplifting note. An elderly man approached one of our native Haitian volunteers and expressed how grateful he was that we were sharing this for free. He understood how important it was for their healing and that they would not have normally been able to afford access to such techniques. The singing continued echoing from the hills even as we walked out of the camp.
Zweig of Warren works with Amurtel and has been back and forth to Haiti since the earthquake struck.