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Training to help children heal — a healing process in itself

Haiti, March 10, 2010

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I’m Fabiola, a part of Mercy Corps Haiti’s staff of nationals, hired as the communication officer about three weeks ago. Needless to say, keeping up with Mercy Corps’ energy and momentum has been challenging but mostly fun and almost always rewarding.

Today, I’m attending a Comfort for Kids training that is taking place in the heart of Port-au-Prince, near Champs de Mars where a large number of my displaced countrymen have been living since the earthquake struck on January 12. On this rather cold Tuesday morning, 19 participants — mostly pediatricians, a few nurses and even an anesthesiologist — have gathered to hear what Griff Samples’ (our psycho-social super-hero) team has prepared for them.

For the first time, I’m learning about the four pillars of human existence: people, places, routines and traditions. Clearly these are all concepts we are familiar with, factors we deal with daily.

Today, our Comfort for Kids trainers are using these factors in an interesting metaphor: imagine these pillars as four legs holding up the table of life. If this is the case, on January 12, the table of Haitian life collapsed and the four pillars of our existence were shaken to their core. The people, places, routines and rituals that made life-life have been thrown up in the air — and picking up the pieces among the debris has turned out to be a challenging process for many.

I was in Pétion Ville on January 12, and although my family and I are extremely blessed to be alive and well, somehow we are all still traumatized by the whole experience. My mom was under the rubble of her massive three-story office building in Delmas where she has worked for 35 years — PLACES. She finally found an exit point after digging through for two hours without the help of rescuers.

She’s since been evacuated outside the country for medical care and rehabilitation — PEOPLE. My dad is doing OK but is a little bit of a mess without her by his side. He is also physically exhausted as he hasn’t slept in a proper bed for more then one night at a time since the 12th — ROUTINES.

My brother has had to postpone his wedding until further notice — TRADITIONS. Our normal day-to-day lives have been rocked and changed forever…and that’s just my family’s story. Like I said, we are part of the fortunate ones.

I see the trauma everywhere I go, in my own friends who still can’t manage to sleep inside their homes, in their children, in my colleagues who ask about exit drills in case of aftershocks. Truly, anyone who was in Haiti on January 12 has been and still is affected by this catastrophe.

Psycho-social programs such as Mercy Corps’ Comfort for Kids train parents, teachers, caregivers, doctors and other medical staff to understand normal reactions to crisis for adults and children of all ages. Participants also learn how to support children more effectively and how to answer their questions with age-appropriate honesty. Programs like these are crucial to the rehabilitation of our nation, our people, and most importantly the innocent children who will inherit this land.

I came to this training to observe, photograph and document, but even I am walking away with something else: a bigger picture, an objective perspective of what happened to me and millions of my fellow Haitians on January 12th, 2010.

Let the healing begin.