Remembering 9/11, honoring Comfort for Kids

September 9, 2011

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As the difficult anniversary of the attacks on September 11, 2001 looms, those of us old enough to remember it cannot but think to where we were and what we were doing when the planes hit, and in retrospect, how our individual lives as well as our country has changed. The news and social media are replete with personal recollections of the day and its sorrowful aftermath.

For me and for Mercy Corps, the attacks on the World Trade Center marked the beginning of the legacy program called Comfort for Kids.

If you follow our website, you’ll have already read some about Comfort for Kids Mercy Corps is currently implementing it in the aftermaths of recent disasters, such as the earthquake in Haiti, and tsunami in Japan, and currently launching in Libya.

Most of you probably didn’t know that Comfort for Kids got its start on the streets of Manhattan, a few days after the Twin Towers crumbled. The days and weeks that followed the attacks were painful for the nation. But in the New York City metropolitan area, the shock and grief were palpably the most severe. We, adults could not make sense of what had transpired. But the children – those who witnessed the awful images, whose parents were involved in the extensive clean-up, or who lost jobs, which meant families lost daily lives as they’d known them, were especially affected by this catastrophic event that forced everyone to revisit their basic understanding of the world around them. The children needed help. They needed a way to process it all.

Less than a month after the attacks, with the help of my Mercy Corps colleagues and outside experts, we launched the Comfort for Kids program. Its purpose was – and is to this day – to help kids process the changes that transpired due to a disaster, while laying the groundwork for emotional recovery.

Ten years later, I vividly remember my time in New York City, and the response to our trainings with school social workers, case and family workers, daycare and community organization workers, mental health professionals, police and firefighters, and parents how to talk with children about what they experienced. I watched people begin to unwind a little when they realized they learned about normal reactions to traumatic events – when they started to understand their own reactions in the context of the disaster, and then how children respond and how they could support them more effectively, and promote resilience and coping skills in affected at-risk communities. Over the coming months, we trained over 8,000 people who then took what they learned and applied it within their communities.

I didn’t know then that over the next ten years that I would be involved taking Comfort for Kids after other natural disasters first in the US, then Latin America and Asia, and then in post-conflict settings in the Middle East and now North Africa. We translated core materials into Spanish and Chinese after 9/11. Now we also have materials in Creole, Arabic, Japanese. We didn’t anticipate that 10 years later over 1 million copies of our print materials would have been disseminated to help children of tsunamis, earthquakes and war. I didn’t realize that we were building the foundation to one of Mercy Corps’ most widely utilized and recognized disaster recovery programs.

On this September 11, like most Americans, I will remember the events that transpired 10 years ago and honor those that perished. But I will also remember the resilience of ordinary Americans, their compassion and unflagging determination to help the youngest New Yorkers.