Haiti is a country very much at risk from natural disasters. Its location in the Caribbean Sea directly over a fault line gives rise to the double threat of frequent hurricanes and, as demonstrated on January 12th, deadly earthquakes. In Haiti these dangers are compounded by a lack of public education on disaster preparation and safe practices. Following a natural disaster, the great loss and uncertain circumstances can often lead to serious psychological trauma, especially in children who require a sense of stability to flourish.
Before this past January Haiti hadn’t experienced a major earthquake in 150 years, so it wasn’t surprising that children here aren’t being taught about the science of earthquakes and safe procedures. What was surprising, however, is how little public education there is on how to prepare for and be safe during hurricanes and floods in a country so often ravaged by these catastrophes.
Building from our successful school safety training program in Sungai Gerringing, Indonesia (2009-2010), volunteers at Project Leogane have developed a disaster risk reduction (DRR) program to educate teachers on the science of natural disasters and how they can best prepare their students and classrooms for such an event. Responding to the needs of teachers, we also added a psychosocial component to the education program to help teachers learn to recognize trauma in their students and treat them through creative therapy techniques.
Creative therapy is based on the belief that the creative process involved in self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, manage behavior, reduce stress, and increase self-esteem and self-awareness. In adults as well as children this will include art-based activities such as song, dance, painting and drawing.
On the Road…
In late March, just before the schools were to officially reopen, we introduced our new materials for the first time in a half-day session with a group of teachers in Darbonne, a town neighboring Leogane. Over the next two weeks, HODR volunteers held teacher training sessions in the Leogane district Brache, as well as in Petionville, Port au Prince. All of these teacher groups were arranged with the help of our friend Johnny from Limye Lavi, a Haitian organization that specializes in child protection and education.
The feedback there allowed us to refine the session in advance of our most ambitious excursion yet – a three-day tour of communities in and around the coastal city of Jacmel. On April 20, a team of six HODR volunteers and two translators set off in a tap-tap crammed with supplies on the winding, mountainous road between Leogane and Jacmel. Three days and 15 hours of jarring tap-tap rides along questionable Haitian roads later, the team had presented our DRR and creative therapy training to 135 teachers in the remote communities of Macari and Beinet, and in the city of Jacmel.
The teachers that attended participated in the creative therapy activities with gusto and soaked up the DRR lessons, keeping our volunteers on their toes with tough questions that ranged from the practical – “If a goat dies in a flood, is it still safe to eat?” – to the perplexing – “What do I do if there’s a hurricane and an earthquake at the same time?”
Despite the challenges that come with new and different material and techniques, the groups were very responsive and the weekend was a great success. To date, HODR volunteers have reached 263 educators with our disaster risk reduction and creative therapy teacher training program. In all, these teachers are responsible for the education and daytime safety of about 8,000 Haitian children. In the coming months we will continue to bring our fun and informative training sessions to earthquake-affected communities around Leogane, helping teachers to educate and support their children now and in the future.
Tags: All Hands